An admission

As an educator, I don’t mind e-learning. Like, at all.

It makes me feel bad that that’s true, but it still is. Make no mistake; most teachers are killing themselves this year, especially those who are in hybrid situations. My personal situation has been helped immeasurably by the fact that I managed to snag a medical exemption to stay home full-time, so I can’t be dragged back and forth from my building, and as it turns out, if some of your kids are home and some are in school, it’s actually a lot more manageable if you’re at home rather than in the building.

But in all seriousness? I’ve always written most of my own assignments. I’m more than technically competent enough that that aspect of distance learning doesn’t bother me at all. And– and this is the kicker– I don’t have to deal with discipline, at all. Now, don’t misunderstand me; my kids are going to learn much more in a face-to-face, non-pandemic set of circumstances than they are in this; when I say I don’t mind e-learning, I mean from a “personal stress level” standpoint, not from a “student learning” standpoint. In person is clearly superior for student learning outcomes, but we can’t have that right now because of the slightly more important “keeping everyone alive” outcomes. But god damn do I like being able to get through a lesson without getting interrupted a hundred times, and I also have a number of students who are undeniably benefiting from the lack of distractions that, well, everyone else provides nearly constantly int he classroom.

I have a number of others who are suffering from the isolation and are simply not good at self-directing their learning, mind you; I’m not trying to minimize the effect they’re having on them. That’s part of the reason I passed everyone. I simply can’t expect a 14-year-old to be able to self-regulate like that in the absence of a parent standing over their shoulder.

But me? Personally? I mean, I”m stressed; everybody’s stressed. But as far as my job? I’m doing fine. I needed winter break this year less than I ever have. I can’t believe that that’s true, but it is.

Today, I …

  • Sent approximately 175 emails (not a joke, and if it’s off it’s too low);
  • Worked with one (1) student for an hour on some missing work;
  • Attended a second-attempt IEP meeting that both the parent and the student declined to attend;
  • Attended a PD, supposedly;
  • Caught up my grading, again;
  • Went to the comic shop;
  • Managed to avoid an argument with a local malcontent about whether he should wear a mask in said comic shop;
  • Filmed a short TikTok video that in, oh, three or four hours has amassed 125,000 views and counting;
  • Ate tasty tortellini soup for dinner;
  • Played Demon’s Souls;
  • Attempted (and failed) to do a small bit of Christmas shopping;
  • Attempted (and succeeded) to manage to not spend money on myself, beyond the aforementioned comic books;
  • Wrote a blog post.

Later, I will …

  • Finish R.F. Kuang’s excellent The Burning God, which will likely be reviewed tomorrow;
  • Sleep.

‘Twas a decent day.

On DEAR JUSTYCE, by Nic Stone

This is another of those posts that is sort of a review of the book, but as I’m currently planning on talking more about what the book isn’t than what it is, I’m not going to tag it that way, at least not in the headline. Here’s the review part: this is a good book, and an important book, and you should read it, and I think it’s probably better than Dear Martin, the book it’s a sequel to, but I’ve said before that Dear Martin suffered for me by being read nearly immediately after The Hate U Give and covering a lot of the same territory. Dear Justyce isn’t suffering from that, so it may just be that I was more able to review the book on its own merits.

Anyway, the story: Dear Justyce is, like Dear Martin, mostly an epistolary novel, or a story told through letters. In Dear Martin, the main character was basically writing journal entries that were framed as letters to Martin Luther King Jr. In Justyce, the main character, a Black teenager named Quan, is actually writing to Justyce, the main character of the first book. I’m pretty sure Quan made some appearances in the first book, but honestly it’s been a few years and I’m not a hundred percent certain, and Justyce is the POV character for occasional bits of this book as well.

And it’s the structure of the book that kind of has me frustrated with it. Justyce is in his first year at Yale as this book begins, and he’s pre-law. He was always presented as an academically oriented, really bright kid, so the notion that the story is being told through his letters is entirely believable. Quan is presented as a kid who could have been Justyce, had he been dealt a fairer hand by society. He could have been the Yale kid, and instead he’s been arrested multiple times (he is incarcerated through the entire novel, although portions are either flashback or him describing times when he was free) and he’s currently imprisoned because he’s accused of killing a cop. And I’m not going to get too far into spoiler territory, but we’re given plenty of other reasons to feel sympathetic toward the kid.

Here’s my thing: I’ve got perhaps half a dozen former students who I know are locked up, at least two for murder and one for aggravated assault and a few other things. And the two kids who are locked up for murder? At least one of them definitely did it. And my kids don’t have good friends who are conveniently in law school and have access to good lawyers, and– and this bit is important– none of them are remotely capable of writing the eight- and ten-page letters that Quan dashes off routinely throughout this book. A lot of the kids who get caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline aren’t as academically talented (I am deliberately not saying “smart”) or as literate as Quan is portrayed in this book, and that’s sort of a problem when you’re trying to write an epistolary novel with a parallel structure to your first book.

This doesn’t make Dear Justyce a bad book, mind you. There are ways in which Nic Stone sets up Quan to be a sympathetic character, and you want your main character to be sympathetic. What I’m wondering is what Dear Rayterrion might have looked like– a book about a kid who might have been every bit as screwed by the system– he says he’s innocent, after all– and no doubt had a very similar upbringing as Quan did, but adds a ton of academic challenges as well and lacks his easy facility with the written word. Can you even write a book like this when the main character can barely read or write? Because I remember this kid from 8th grade, and I’m pretty sure nothing got better between 15 and 17. What’s that book look like?

(I also want a book about Martel Montgomery, who is simultaneously a mentor, a local gang leader, a college-educated social worker, and the reason Quan is in jail. He’s a fascinating character. But that’s a side conversation.)

Anyway, none of this is really Dear Justyce’s fault, it’s just where the book got my head going. I’d recommend you read both of them, if you haven’t, and I may well revisit Dear Martin— it’s short, after all– to see what I think of it after this book and with some distance from The Hate U Give.

Forget it, Jake, it’s 2020

Enjoy the pretty flower; it’s likely to be the only pleasant thing in this post.

We went out and bought pumpkins and got the boy’s Halloween costume earlier today, and at some point during the trip I sighed, and my wife asked me why. My answer was that she should assume that if at any point between now and, oh, two or three weeks from now, she hears me sigh, it’s because I’m under an absolutely immense amount of stress basically all the time and I’m trying to discharge some of that.

Not that that’s specific to me, mind you; we’re all neck-deep in bullshit right now. We went to Target after the pumpkins because the boy needed new shoes and I got an email from a student apologizing for not turning in any work this week. She’d been in a mental hospital.

I wrote her back and told her she was to do none of the work for my class. I’m going to exempt her from everything she’s missed. I absolutely refuse to let my class be another source of stress for this kid. She doesn’t need it.

(Incidentally, I tweeted out this article about teaching and learning in 2020 earlier today, and I endorse every word of it.)

Meanwhile, I’m trying to decide how vocal I want to be about calling upon a school board member to resign. If you remember my 2020 endorsements post, you may recall a tepid endorsement of current board member Leslie Wesley, who I don’t actually get to vote for or against because she doesn’t represent my district. I was, at the time, less encouraging a vote for her than a vote against her opponent, who is, to put it mildly, a local crank.

Unfortunately, Ms. Wesley got busted today for plagiarizing her candidate statement to the South Bend Tribune more or less in its entirety, basically just changing the city and district names of a 2018 California school board candidate’s essay. She first claimed that she’d written the piece in 2016 and actually accused the other woman of having plagiarized her, then switched her story to blaming a staffer, because people who run for school board need staff members.

Sure.

This is one of those situations where the initial situation is bad and then the lying about the initial situation just makes it even worse; her insistence in that article that nobody running for office ever writes their own articles is horseshit, because she’s not running for President, she’s running for fucking school board, and the initial suggestion that she’d simply just dusted off a statement from four years ago and reused it and slandering the stranger who got dragged into this against her own will is obscene.

There was also apparently a bunch of inflammatory bullshit on Facebook when this initially came out, all of which has been deleted, but including this charmingly inexplicable comment:

Hell, even if she’d written the statement in its entirety this year, any statement by a school board member trying to be reelected to office this year that never once mentions Covid, further not discussing the fact that she voted twice to return us to school, is not acceptable.

She needs to go. I would rather have a crank on the board than a shitty liar, and she’s a shitty liar even if she’s not a plagiarist. Fuck her. She needs to resign, to hell with the election.

So I gotta decide what I’m going to do about that. I considered using her picture on this post and decided against it; I thought about using her name in the headline and decided against that. I’m on Facebook under Luther’s name, not my real one. And my audience here isn’t as locally concentrated as one might thing, because my friends and family are all over the place.

(I wonder if WordPress has a way to do state-by-state traffic tracking? That might be interesting.)

At any rate, I can use my Big Platform, which probably isn’t as Big as I need it to be given how hyper-specific this issue is, or I can begin raising hell on my own, using my real name. It’s not like I haven’t gotten into the habit of emailing the entire board and the superintendent whenever the mood strikes me.

(Some Board members have replied to every message. The superintendent has replied to every message. Several Board members have replied to at least one. I have never heard a single word back from Ms. Wesley. Perhaps she doesn’t have a staffer to check her mail for her.)

Anyway, I gotta think about this. But if you are local, and especially if you’re in the third district for the School Board race, be aware of this, and if you haven’t voted yet, please vote accordingly.

In which … something, I suppose

I have news of immense personal and familial value to share, but I’m waiting for somebody to take my leash off so I can do said sharing. And as of right now, I remain leashed. So I gotta come up with something else to talk about today.

Y’know. Like a chump.

Today was the first day of hybrid learning, and it was also yet another day of utterly shit covid numbers from both the nation, the state of Indiana, and my county. The number of kids in my classes ranged from three to, I think, five, or perhaps seven at the high end. Tomorrow will be similar, and then next week once the kids have realized that “return to in-person schooling” does not, in fact, even vaguely resemble anything like the school they remember, our in-person attendance is going to drop even lower than that. Luckily for me, I’ve gotten over the guilt. The people who were in my classroom today had the easiest gig in the world, and it’s only going to get easier.

On the other hand, there’s at least one more teacher in the building approved to work from home, and an email went out this morning looking for volunteers to cover her classes, so we’ve already run out of subs and available bodies on the first day. In, I must needs remind you all, in accordance with prophecy.

We’ll see how long it lasts. Word is the health department is about to put their foot down on this whole mess; we’ll see.