In which I demand answers to important questions


I’m going to find out in about three weeks– “by February 21,” the website says– if I got that teacher creativity grant I applied for.  You may remember me talking about this; my grant basically boiled down to “give me money so that I can write this summer instead of working,” except, hopefully, a bit more compelling.

This is no secret– if I could quit my day job and do whatever I wanted, I’d write.  And getting paid ten grand to sit down and write a novel would be amazing.  There have been periods in my life– I’m in the midst of one of them now– where I was writing fairly intensively and periods where I was writing very little, and without exception I have always been happier when I was writing a lot.  I can handle writing nonfiction easily; witness, oh, about 315 of the posts on this blog, daily or damn close to it for the last six months.  Fiction is like pulling teeth.  There’s nothing like the feeling of finishing a story; the process of writing a story is pure pain.  I remember seeing Richard Bach say once that he was only able to write fiction when the pain of not writing fiction became greater than the pain of writing fiction.  Which is a fun way of thinking about it.  Of course, Richard Bach also said this:

Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.

…so maybe I ought to shut up and just write fiction instead of complaining about how hard it is.

I don’t know how many of you stuck it out through all eight or nine or however many parts there were of The Benevolence Archives 5.  Maybe starting with the fifth story wasn’t the brightest idea I ever had, but it at least convinced me to finish it, which is why I put the first part up in the first place.  The installments are averaging eight to twelve Likes each, which isn’t as many as I generally pick up on posts, but that doesn’t bug me much; not everybody comes to WordPress to read fiction– I’ve skipped over short stories myself on any number of blog posts, so wtvr– and even those who like to read short stories aren’t always into science fiction.  If those Likes are evidence that anyone at all is reading it, I’m gonna take that as a win.  Then again, there are already (checks) nine Likes on the post previous to this one, which basically just says hey this isn’t a post but maybe there will be one later, so maybe y’all just click on stuff sometimes.  I dunno.

So… (deep breath) serious question:  Let’s say, hypothetically, that I knock BA5 out of first-draft status (which I’m gonna do anyway), bundle it with three of the other four stories (one’s not done, because I realized I needed to write this one first) and then put it up somewhere as an ebook, for, say, like, $2.

If, hypothetically, I were to do that, is there anybody out there who would be willing to buy it?  Hypothetically, of course.

Just wondering.

In which I stall for time

There will be a post later, I swear, but for right now I’ll just leave this here because awesome.

The highlight of the day…

shut up…was hearing about a student who explained to her teacher that she needed to go see the nurse because “the color was coming off” of her skin.

That’s new.

Didn’t actually happen to me, though.  I’m exhausted beyond anything that’s reasonable right now; I got a decent amount of sleep last night and despite a couple of Tweets to the contrary I had a decent day at work, although my worst group was easily my Honors class, which 1) rarely happens and 2) tends to annoy me out of proportion to their behavior.

It’s 7:13.  If I’m in bed in 45 minutes I’m not going to be surprised about it.

On how not to say things (by never saying things)

6a00e393366a1a8834017616f1e2f9970cThis will be my second story this week about someone who did something stupid and fell face first into the Internet as a consequence.  Perhaps it’ll become a new thing around here; I dunno.  But have you read the bullshit about the yoga idiot yet?

(The article is called “There are No Black People in my Yoga Classes and I’m Suddenly Uncomfortable With It”.  No, that’s not a joke.  That’s actually what the article is called, and it’s every fucking bit as stupid and clueless as you might be imagining right now.)

The author: a Skinny White Girl.  Oh, so skinny, and oh, so white.

The perpetrator:  a Non-Skinny Black Woman, who we’re gonna make a whoooooole lot of observations about based on nothing more than making up a bunch of racist nonsense.  Read the article, maybe read some of the comments on Gawker, just revel in the stupid because oh my god there is so very much of it.

And lemme tell you a story.

It’s 1998.  I have just graduated from college, gone to Israel for a month or two, and then moved to Chicago.  I do not start grad school until, God, some unholy late date– September something, maybe, so I manage to find myself a series of temp jobs around the city for something to do and some extra money.  1998, as you may know, involved a horrifying heat wave; my choices were literally go to work or lay around my apartment and sweat all day.

So I got a job.  Which meant learning a brand new public transport system in a brand new city, effectively alone, when I’d never actually used public transportation of any kind before.

Something else I’d never done: been a minority.  I’d taken some African-American Studies classes at IU, but for some reason those didn’t count, and I was rarely the only white person in the room.  Until moving to Chicago, I’d never had the experience of being the only white person I could see unless I was alone.

It took a bit of getting used to.

So, yeah:  I’m on a bus.  I have no idea where I’m actually going, other than that the bus is eventually going to stop at X street, and that I have to get off there, walk a block, and board a train.  Because I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going, I sit in the very front of the bus so that I can a) hear the driver as he calls off stops and b) potentially see road signs in case the driver isn’t actually doing that.

Only white person on the bus, for the entire trip.  Cue 25 minutes or so of Rosa Parks white liberal anxiety bullshit.  Everybody was looking at me.  Only white boy on the bus and he’s sitting up in front.  He must think he’s better than us.  Fucking asshole white boy. Blah blah blah blah blah.  I seriously stressed myself out and felt guilty because I was the only white motherfucker on the bus and I was sitting in front of all the black people.

And then I wrote an essay about how bad I felt on the Internet.

Well, no.  What actually happened was that I got the fuck over myself and realized that no other asshole on the bus had even noticed I was there, because amazingly enough my white self was not the center of their collective universes.  Was it possible that somebody noticed the slightly nervous-looking white kid at the front of the bus?  Yeah, but if they did they were probably making fun of me and not aggravated by my existence.  And since nobody actually pays attention to anybody else on the bus– hell, if there’s a more “you don’t want none, there won’t be none” place in the world than a public bus, I can’t imagine what it is (edit: it’s an elevator).  

Nobody gave a shit.  I was not the center of anyone’s world.  I was being an idiot.  And I got over it.

Bonus, similarly-themed story:  I’ve also been the fat person striding into a fitness center, although I was neither black nor female at the time.  I’ve even been the fat person striding into the pool, and wondering what everyone else thought of my fat pale mostly-naked body, them with their muscles and their muscles and their zero fat body percentage and their Speedos and their muscles and oh, how dare you, fat person, sully our temple to our perfect bodies with your fat fatness.

Got over that bullshit too.

Here’s what they were thinking:  seven more laps, and then I can get the hell out of here and go have a cheeseburger.  Nobody gives a fuck about the fat people at the gym or at the pool.  If they do, get a new gym.  Ain’t nobody paying attention; you are not the center of other people’s lives unless you’re pissing in the pool or sweating all over the machines and not wiping it up.

Errybody get over themselves.


On homeschooling

homeschoolFirst things first: go read this.  Yes, the whole thing.  Yes, I know it’s longish, you lazy bum, you’ll be fine; it’s well written and funny and interesting and you’ll learn stuff.  I’ll wait.

An anecdote: I had a (rare) winter birthday party at OtherJob… two weekends ago, I think?  It was weird; there were twice as many kids there as parents, but the families were fun and the kids were cute and I’m pretty sure birthday mom was flirting with me (mentioning my wife and my prominent wedding ring didn’t cure the behavior; I’m not sure if that should change my opinion about whether she was flirting) and all in all I’d rather have had them there than been alone all day.  It was pretty apparent from the jump that all of the kids were pretty bright, and I was keeping half an ear open to the conversations that were happening around the room as the party went on.  Toward the end of the party I actually asked mom where her kids went to school, and she named a school in a neighboring district and then, unsolicited, told me she moved into that district specifically to get away from the one teach in.  Not my school, mind you, but my district.

I winced.  “Ouch,” I said.  “I teach for them.”

She instantly turned massively apologetic, which really wasn’t what I was going for, and I quickly made a point to her that I’ve made to others:  I don’t judge anybody for the educational choices they make for their kids.  Well, okay, sometimes I do; I’ll get to one example later.  But I really try hard not to judge anybody for the educational choices they make for their kids, so long as that choice involves actually trying to educate their child.   This lady made the choice she thought was best for her kid, and given that I’d been watching the kid pretty carefully over the last few hours and wholeheartedly approved of her parenting, I was hardly in a position to be judgy even if I’d wanted to be.

Back to the article:  the author is one of my oldest friends; I’ve known her since college, before any of the three kids or before she even met the husband she’s been married to for ten-plus years.  (I think?  Definitely before they started dating.  I remember when they started dating; I kinda had a crush on her never mind.)

She homeschools her kids, which you’d know if you read the article, I told you to read the article, why haven’t you read the article yet?  Go read the article!  She’s doing a great job; her daughter is smarter than me already.  The entire piece is about why she and her husband made the choices they did in educating their kids, and dispelling some common ideas non-homeschoolers have about homeschooling.

I suspect I can read your mind right now; you’re expecting me to go into a point-by-point teardown of everything she said, punctuated by lots of I love this person, really, but she’s totally wrong about this and here’s why sorts of disclaimers.  Not so.  In fact, I agree with just about every damn thing she says, and on the one place where I’m going to disagree with her it’s to take a more pro-homeschooling position than she did.

I had a conversation with my wife last night about whether she’d be open to homeschooling the boy if it were possible.  She said flat-out that she wanted nothing to do with it.  Me… not so much.  If I’m being honest, I’d homeschool the boy in a second if it were a realistic option.  I’m in love with the Jeffersonian model of education; I am the person I am because I taught myself to be.  Very little of what I know that I think is important is stuff I learned in a classroom, and the idea of getting to spend a few hours a day with my son just exposing him to the world around him is wonderful beyond compare.  However, a lot of the reasons my friend discusses that allow her to homeschool their kids are reasons why I cannot homeschool my own son:

  • As I’ve discussed before, yes, both pairs of grandparents are in town.  But my son has no cousins and honestly I’d be at least mildly surprised if he ever had any; there’s only one uncle with a chance to produce offspring, and even assuming he’s interested, by the time said offspring comes around Kenny will be too old for that child to be much of a playmate;
  • My wife and I are not joiners.  We don’t go to church and aren’t big go-do-stuff people; where socialization is not really a concern for my friend’s kids (and she makes a very good argument for why it’s not) it would be a huge concern for mine.  If Kenny didn’t go to day care he would have barely any reason to know other children even exist.  The fact that we are not at this time planning on another kid is another point against homeschooling; there are literally no kids around for my son to interact with, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
  • She has some issues (some entirely unrelated to the quality of education available, mind you) with her local schools, both private and public.  By sheer luck I happen to have bought a house in the district of one of the best (public) primary schools in my area, and the local middle schools are pretty good too.  I have concerns with the high schools, but that’s a long way away.
  • If I have a real criticism of her piece, it’s this:  She’s able to homeschool her kids because she and her husband can afford for her to be home homeschooling their kids.  That flat-out is not an option for my wife and I, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon.  If one of us stayed home, it would be me; I make (slightly) more than my wife does, and even a 10-20% reduction in our combined take-home pay would kill us, to say nothing of over 50%.  The economics of homeschooling are a very real and serious thing.  Even if I thought it was the best option for my kid, it’s literally impossible for us.    Note that, in the interest of fairness, I have no idea what kinds of economic sacrifices she and her husband might be making for her to stay home, but the fact that they live in a house and not the cement-board-reinforced cardboard box my wife and I would quickly be relegated to means that they’re still better off than us in this regard.

All that said, this is the part I actually want to talk about, and to offer some support on.  Forgive the lengthy quote but I know your ass hasn’t clicked on that link yet:

Naysayers say: I’m not sure I know enough to teach my kid

There seem to be two different types of people who make this response about homeschooling. First, there are people who maybe are not college-educated or are for some whatever reason just concerned about their own lack of elementary knowledge. In these cases, I’d say the parent should go with their gut feeling. If they feel like they are able to guide a student through with the help of a curriculum, then they probably can. If they feel like they cannot, then they probably shouldn’t, because even if they would get along much better than they think their lack of confidence may prevent them from enjoying it. And there is no reason a person should take on a job that pays no money if they’re not going to enjoy it.

The second kind of person is usually a person who is comfortable with their own pool of basic knowledge, but is concerned that educating a seven-year-old requires special skills that their own branch of graduate school (or whatever) didn’t cover. I really don’t think this is true. I spent some time in education programs myself, though my degrees are in other areas. Education programs don’t prepare a parent to teach their own seven-year-old nearly as well as parenting their child for the first six years of his or her life did. I don’t mean to knock teachers, or the value of training in pedagogy in particular for upper grades, and I am incredibly grateful for the support and advise I get from my mother, who is a retired elementary school teacher. But I don’t think my homeschooling friends who don’t have my mother or specialized education training are ill-equipped to teach their own children. There is a great array of materials and advice available to homeschooling parents, and it can be sufficient. There isn’t any special kind of magic that gets sprinkled on schools so that learning can only happen In That Designated Space, and only by Licensed Teachers. People get so used to our culture of licensure, specialization, and lack of do-it-yourselfness (is that a thing?) that they believe it’s countercultural or scary to teach their own child when people did it with no training or second thoughts for a zillion years before our current educational system became standard.

I’ll go further than that:  any parent who is a) possessed of the basic skills that we expect of, say, a high school student and b) actually invested enough in the education of their kids to want to homeschool is probably perfectly qualified to homeschool their own child, at least through the elementary years before things start to specialize.  And I say that as a fully licensed teacher, one who, if he had his way, would live in a society with no options other than public schools, because the public schools were so good that no one even considered any other option.

Here’s the thing:  I’m trained to teach classes, not individual kids.  I’m ferdamnsure better than most people at managing and educating twenty-six kids at a time, of balancing the needs of Julie the Genius against Jimmy the fetal alcohol syndrome kid with a 60 IQ. I can differentiate my instruction like a motherfucker; I can navigate curriculum, I “speak teacher” in a way that somebody who doesn’t teach simply can’t. 

Doesn’t mean shit for specifically educating your kid.  Under most circumstances, parents should at least in theory be better for educating their kid than I would be as a teacher of classrooms of twenty-six.  But we have schools because that model doesn’t work for most people; we specialize our jobs in this country and I teach your kids so that you have time to do something else that need.  If you can read and comprehend the curriculum in front of you, you can probably do a serviceable job of teaching your kid.(*)  Just don’t get the idea that that means you can teach my class.  It’s a very different set of skills.

There’s about to be a very long parenthetical, and I’m already at 2000 words, so lemme bring this to a close: do what you think you need to do with your kid, but have the flexibility to change your mind if your circumstances change.  Just make sure your decision making is reasonable and realistic and think your way through everything you can before you make the decision.  That’s all.

(*) Probably.  And “if.”  I can think of at least two families from my current school who have pulled their kids for “homeschooling” or who have threatened to do so who I would happily report to DCFS for child endangerment in a second if “these cretins are trying to homeschool” were actually legal ground for said report.  Every teacher knows the stereotypes, and in this case I think the stereotypes exist for a reason; all the homeschooled kids who ended up back in school I’ve ever met were either brilliant wunderkinder whose parents economic circumstances changed or clearly should have been removed from their families years ago– I had a fourth grader come in in my first school whose “homeschooling” had involved using the library for a babysitter for a year.  The kid couldn’t do basic arithmetic– like, at all– could only barely read, and at one point was revealed to have no idea what a “planet” was– but was clearly socially well-adjusted and had no learning disabilities.  He’d just been entirely without education for most of his life because his parents didn’t give a damn.

And yes, I’m aware that every parent who does make the choice to send their kids to school has at least one horror story about a teacher.  Fully aware.  Some of those stories are about me.  I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to imagine what they are(**) and whether they’re true or not.(***)

(**) He tried to eat my kid!!!

(***) Only a little.