Throwback Thursday: Real Talk about the Word

Throwback Thursday: Real Talk about the Word, originally posted on June 10, 2017, examines the continued use of racial slurs – in particular, the N-word – in response to the Bill Maher controversy. Black History Month is the perfect time to throw it back to this particular story. 

The question of the use of racial slurs is particularly confounding in an era where victims are fighting back against their oppressors. However, it appears as if a double standard exists that props up an us v. them paradigm. For true equality to be achieved, though, all involved must understand that there can only be us – not different standards for different people. 

Also, keep in mind for all of the uproar over Maher’s comments, the public quickly forgot all of the claims of racism made against him and by the end of the month, the story fell by the wayside. It’s amazing how short of memories people have for some people but not for others. 

I’ve said the N-word before. I’m not proud of it, but I was callow and young and stupid then.

I can blame my homogeneous white neighborhood I grew up in, the public/private schools and even the college I attended. Hell, I can even blame some of my elders and their old-world prejudices.

But none of that makes it right.

That was before I had ever come to know a person of color, have a conversation with a person of color, or understand a person of color. Now, though, I understood why that word must go.

Period.

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Throwback Thursday: The Make Good Son

Throwback Thursday: The Make Good Son, originally posted on July 10, 2017, is a letter I wrote to a student who could have quit on his education and become a statistic.

Except he didn’t.

Instead, with support from home and school he got himself a rugby scholarship. In his freshman year of college, I can proudly say that he is achieving what many of his overly praised, wholly undeserving of such praise peers have not; that is, success in his freshman year.

Keep proving the haters wrong, son, and keep moving forward:

“The Make Good Son” is dedicated to the student who for five years kept me up at night worrying if he was going to blow an opportunity few inner city kids ever have. Yet, despite all of the setbacks, false starts, and one-step-forward; two-steps-back, he became the first in his family to graduate from high school.

As I mentioned in the July 6, 2017, “Throwback Thursday: The Speech I Actually Gave,” writing letters to particular graduates has become a tradition over the years – dating back to when I got married and missed the 2015 Thornt0n-Donovan School commencement.This student, though, supersedes most – if not all – of my success stories because he wasn’t expected to do it. And he did it in spite of all of his detractors, including himself.

You’ve made good on the promise I always knew you had from the moment I started working with you. Sure, it wasn’t easy. There were a lot of missteps along the way and maybe even more excuses – plenty of arguments and strong words and everything else too – but as many times as you’ve made me bang my head against a wall, I never once stopped believing in you. And I never will.

You have a heart bigger than any student I’ve ever taught. As tough as you pretend to be sometimes, you’re kindhearted and compassionate. These are the qualities that make you a human and endear you to others. It’s why so many people have always tried to help you even when you didn’t always give them a reason to do so. They knew how good of a person you were before you did.

Never before have I had a student who is so loyal that he asks me if I need his help when a parent is raising his voice and thumping his chest at me. Be careful, though. There are some who deserve your loyalty; there are others who will take advantage of it and bring you down with them in whatever hole they’re hiding. Watch out for this pitfall. Trust me.

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Throwback Thursday: The Writing Process in Posts

Throwback Thursday: The Writing Process in Posts originally was posted on July 24, 2017 highlights the importance of editing in the the writing process. This particular post looks back on previous  posts about the my editing of Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up and From Tragedy to Triumph too. 

Writing is as much – if not more – about editing than it is composing. Sure, you need a grand idea and a plan to provide scaffolding, and you also need to do the most important task – that is, write it – but then the real work starts.

And I constantly share this insight with every single one of my students who thinks the minute the write the last word of the first draft, that’s it! The process is over, finished, never to be looked at again.

Dream on.

Writing is moving, reading, axing, debating, reading, reinforcing, rewriting, rinse and repeat.

It’s that challenge to find the right blend that keeps me at it nearly each day in some form or another. I certainly went through it – and continue to – with Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up, with From Tragedy to Triumph too.

And, as I make my big push to find representation this summer, I’m sure I look forward to going through it again.

Here is some of my commentary on the process of writing and editing Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up:

 

 

 

ICYMI: The Crux of Education

ICYMI: The Crux of Education, originally posted on January 29, 2018, examines the aim of education v. the results desired in relation to student participation. While most educators – I assume – strive to mold their students into autonomous thinkers, this sometimes runs counter to traditional educational systems that present teachers as overlords and students as their peons.

In short, this archaic view of education no longer works anymore.

Throwback Thursday: A Mentor or Just a Nightmare

Throwback Thursday: A Mentor or Just a Nightmare was originally posted on June 26, 2017 and examines my subconscious reluctance to admit that I’m actually an adult and – dare I say – even a role model.

Me.

Role model.

Me?

Scary.

A graduation from the past – photo courtesy of Dr. Benoit Van Lesberghe

On Friday June 16th, my first sixth-grade class at Thornton-Donovan School in New Rochelle, NY, graduated from high school. Already an emotional day as they were the most talented, genial class I’ve ever taught, the tears really started flowing when one of the co-valedictorians gave his address. In it, he lauded a select number of teachers who exhibited a fearlessness in their teaching that enabled him to become the young adult who will pursue engineering at Cornell University in the fall.

And there I was sitting with the rest of the faculty as he closed his speech explaining how I had changed his life by teaching him how to write and how to take pride in the work he produced and how I had continued to push him to produce his best regardless of the circumstance.

As if that did not validate why I work so hard at what I do, the same student further honored me on Monday when he asked me to participate in his Eagle Scout Court of Honor. An Eagle Scout myself, I jumped at the chance to escort him to stage with his father (also an Eagle Scout). What I didn’t expect, however, were his closing remarks where he awarded me a mentor pin for pushing him to finish his Eagle project and attain Scouting’s highest rank.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – that it’s a pin, so who cares – but, to me, that pin stands as one of the most significant awards I’ve ever received. And, as I joked with my student afterwards, he had managed to make me cry twice in the span of four days after not one drop fell in our nearly-six-year relationship. [Read More…]

The Crux of Education

Here’s the crux of education: On one hand, teachers and schools want kids who think independently and formulate their own opinions. On the other hand, teachers and schools want students who are docile and pliable and follow orders without questions.

I’ve always strived to guide my students towards autonomous thinking, from the questions I ask them to the writing assignments we tackle to the organic discussions that take place.

Why?

Because these kids are going to grow up to be our leaders. And they need to be secure in their convictions and make decisions for themselves, not someone else.

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ICYMI: The Pain of Growing Up

ICYMI: The Pain of Growing Up, originally posted on December 22, 2017, explains the impossible task I have as an educator, serving as a protector of all of my students.

In many ways I wish I could be like the Giver and take the feelings of anguish from my students so they themselves do not have to feel them. Yet, I know this proves to be impossible. These experiences, unfortunately, induce maturation and appear necessary in growing up. No matter how painful they may prove to be.

The Giver paperback via Amazon.com

In the wake of the tragic passing of one of my former students, I wanted not only to bemoan the cruelty of life that forces kids to grow up quickly but also laud the poise so many of my students showed in representing themselves, their school, and their lost friend.

I can take a semblance of solace in knowing that they will learn from this experience and be better in some way for it. I write this while keeping in mind the deep sorrow they feel and I feel as well.