Tuesday, July 23, 2013

We are All Statistics but We CAN Choose the Survey that Reports on Us

All surveys are rhetorical because they are produced to persuade those who are surveyed and those who read the survey results that something is probably true. Growing up, I always told my son that we “would not be statistics” meaning pretty much what I reported in my last posting titled “Statistics”. I did not want to be in that category of 15-19 year olds who were unmarried parents whose children were born into and raised in poverty only to, probably, grow up and do the very same thing. I have changed my mind. I DO want to be a statistic.

I want to be the statistic of teen parents who raised themselves and their children out of poverty (if that is where they started) and who raised their children to believe that it is their job to leave the world in a little bit better shape than it was in when they landed upon it.  I’d like to read THAT survey. I’ll look for it but, again, if you know it-share it.

I decided to do the blog because I promised my self that I would write for 30 minutes everyday and I wanted my writing to express my most honest thoughts. I can only be honest about those things that I know in my heart of hearts. Everything else is rhetoric. Don’t misunderstand me; I appreciate rhetoric. When I use the word rhetoric, I do not refer to the loose interpretations of the word that are in general use today, but as Aristotle defined it. Language used to persuade. He did not specify if it was for good or ill, just that it was using words to persuade someone of something for some reason. For a long time I thought that every utterance made by a human being was rhetoric, and for the most part I still believe that. However, I have come to believe that there are some words that are used to convey fundamentally honest thoughts that do not need to persuade anyone else of anything. They simply need to be expressed.

Since I can remember I wanted to be a teacher and a writer. As I grew up I read voraciously. Reportedly, I taught myself how to read by looking through the canned food in the kitchen cupboard. I tend to believe this because until I moved out of my mother’s house and into my own, I believed that carrots were only available in cans!

I have been teaching, formally, in institutions of higher learning for 25 years give or take a year. I tried teaching middle school. Any smaller and the children are just too easy to break and I had my own teenager at home, so middle school seemed reasonable. I also truly enjoyed my son at those ages, roughly, 9-12.  It was a terrible mistake. While my own son was a joy to behold as he moved into puberty, half boy-half young adult, the kids in the public schools were just mean. When one female sixth grader called me a “bitch” during math - and I realized I could not call her one back - I figured that I was probably not cut out to teach K-12. I also prayed that my own son did not turn into one of these surly monsters when he got to school. He probably did.

I decided that I would teach K-12 teachers, and maybe they would have the patience that I did not have, and the tools to help that student understand why she was so mean to me. I think it had less to do with me and more to do with her, and that an effective teacher would have been able to help her understand all of that. I was not that teacher. I was not able to help a 10 year old understand where her animosity and her vocabulary came from. That experience had a lasting effect on me and as a result, I have come to believe that the least amount of learning that a human does in a lifetime happens inside a classroom. Effective teachers are those who set their students up to think OUTSIDE of the classroom (also known as THE BOX).

I believe that life experiences are valuable. This has not always been the case and it is my sincere hope that anyone reading my words has confidence in the value of their own experiences. I also believe that many people are capable of learning from the mistakes made by those around them and they, therefore, do not need to make every tragic mistake a human might make in a lifetime, on their own. Just take a look at the people around you. So many of them can show you what not to do.

From time to time I will be offering pieces from my journals in the interest of saving someone the expense of a humiliating or tragic mistake. I offer myriad misfortunes that dot the map of my journey through life. I also have some high points in there. Some I was able to identify as high points in the moment; some took years to be appreciated. I am a slow learner. My life, as interesting as I believe it to be, is most interesting because it parallels the lives of so many “O”thers (those who do not for any number of reasons fit into the stereotype of the typical American-also a nod to Edward Said). I do not consider myself unique, nor do I think of myself as special. In fact, I detest that word. Think about it. Special needs, Special Education “Special Girl/Boy”. They all connote negative experiences, some in the eyes of society and some real up close and personal.  So, please never call me special.

I think that by making public my words that I will garner response. Some good, some not so good. As John Scalzi, author of, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008, has done, I reserve the right to appreciate or reject any and all comments. Please know that I honestly do believe that all of the comments will improve my writing. Feedback is: response, reply, reaction, resistance, repetition. While sometimes painful it is always useful, to someone. Sometimes it is not the person at whom it is directed.

So, as my friend who left this stage before her role was complete so often chided me to do, I am going to tell you my story. She believed that a person’s story, as well as, the way they told that story was a critical component in useful intercourse. By that I mean, of course, the exchange of discourse on any topic. My beliefs, your beliefs, her beliefs are the foundation upon which rests all other statements we make on the millions of other topics that make up our daily existence. The story we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and the stories we tell other people are not always the same. The ways in which we tell those stories also span genre. My friend believed that as teachers of other teachers it was our obligation to bring this concept to the attention of our students and colleagues (colleagues usually do not appreciate this and provide negative feedback). In order to do so, we both agreed that we had to be prepared to do this ourselves. I think the beginning of our relationship was so fraught with anger and tension, and the close bond that we developed over the years can be traced back to this set of beliefs in one way or another, so I suppose I have to say that I agree with her, which, if she were still on the planet, she would really enjoy and I would do grudgingly.

Grudgingly then, I move forward to tell my story using my full capacity for honesty and my best grammar. I will span genre, and, while I may forget to tell you, from time to time, that I have switched tracks I will try to provide an indicator when I anticipate a change.  We begin en media res.