Sunday, January 29, 2006

I'm out here, really I am

It's just that I'm insanely busy, and my computer is limited right now, which is why I'm not doing, say, the really interesting post on polygamy I'm thinking about. Soon. Like RenReb's thing on men being scum.

Things I'm thinking about:

1. Polygamy (not as an option, just as an interesting thing.)

2. Soup (the stuff that's left in a Crock Pot after you do a turkey breast in there makes a great base for soup). Cannelini, cabbage, zucchini, and some tomato sauce were involved.

3. Hamas. Not surprised, just apprehensive. Apparently I was supposed to be surprised. Let me be blunt. Would YOU vote for Fatah? I mean, these Hamas is crazy evil, and scares the hell out of me, but I can actually sort of see the voter's logic here. It's a logic that assumes that me and mine should be blown to smithereens, but if that's already a given, then I can sort of see where everyone is coming from here. (Note the chipper, upbeat, slightly hysterical tone of voice. I'm imitating Israelis of my acquaintance.)

4. My upcoming observation at work.

5. What I should get at Macys with a Christmas gift card from my grandma which got sent to several wrong addresses, I think, and finally found me.

6. The fact that San Francisco has Humbolt County mad at us for sending them homeless people who may or may not be theirs to begin with. (Moroni deported to Sweden. Claims he's not from there).

7. Mondegreens. Particularly, the one which hears the BART announcement as "This is a BART alligator update. All station alligators are currently in service," and "Who knows what evil lurks in the hot cement? The SHADOW knows."

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Blame It On The Griots

It's called culture. Or racism. You decide.

Today I had to attend my stupid teacher induction program. My stupid teacher induction program has Saturday seminars which annoy me. They are in Moraga. I have to get up at six in the morning to get to Moraga, take BART, and then a cab. I don't care for this.

This month's 'standards' are the ones having to do with diversity in the classroom. This is better than last times'--technology--because I actually have diversity, as opposed to technology, in my classroom. But it's not great. Basically, talking about diversity in education settings sucks. But we had an interesting, if weird and intense, keynote speaker, and I attended a pleasant workshop in which we learned that it hurts children's feelings if the teacher doesn't react to racial and sexual slurs in the classroom. In the immortal words of Mr. Mackey from South Park, "Prejudice is bad, m'kay?" (Actually, the man teaching the workshop was excellent, and we had a good conversation. I'm just being snippy, 'cause I don't like being in Moraga of a Saturday.)

Then comes the grade-alike group. This is where a bunch of people I'm in a group with go and sit and are facilitated in discussion of the day's events. Unfortunately, I was put in the Special Education group. I don't teach SPED. I teach ELD, otherwise known as ESL. But there aren't enough of us, so we got SPED as our grade-alike group. I am trying not to feel that the message here is not loaded.

So we're asked for responses to the day, and one young woman starts to talk about how she attended a workshop about working with African-American students, and the disconnect they have from school. In the course of talking about this, she explains that the guy teaching the workshop gave an example of a project where students have to write about their family and heritage. She explains that Mexican-American students could write about their Mexican heritage. And Italian-American students could write about their Italian heritage. And black students say, for example, 'I'm just from Mississippi,' and the guy teaching the class tries to explain that no, that's not the point...

I raise my hand and say, trying not to be too snippy, that this sounds like great material, but that I'm at a loss to see what misses the point about saying you're from Mississippi, especially since African-American students saying this probably have a heritage in that area that goes back rather a long way.

I do not add, but think, that black American culture from the South is a cultural richness almost beyond belief, producing, among a lot of other things, great inventors, great writers, and the greatest music and musicians ever to rise from this earth. (OK, I know prejudice is bad, but I'm slightly skewed in judgement here. Sue me.)

Unfortunately, I'm dealing with STUPID people. The facilitator begins to explain to me that he was educated as a white intellectual (he's Asian by heritage) by Jesuits, and he has this whole range of awareness of the sweep of history, and blah, blah, blah, and when he visits, say, St. Paul's in Rome, he's aware of its significance, and, etc. Then he looks me straight in the face and says, "It's called culture."

Well, shut MY mouth. I will regret for days that I did not have the presence of mind--or foresight--to look back and say 'it's called culture by WHOM?' Instead, I tell him that St. Paul's is very nice, but that I had understood the assignment to be one where students wrote not about the sweep of human history, but about their own heritages, and I still don't get why Mississippi isn't a good one.

The theme is taken up by a young white dude in the group, who explains to me about ethnocentrism. He does an excellent job. I do not tell him that he's a condescending jerk, and that I have an effing degree in history from a liberal college. Instead, I explain that, once again, I understood this to be an assignment about personal family heritage. He explains carefully about family history not coming down from slavery days.

I wonder to myself how many white students outside Boston prep schools can give detailed family histories from the mid-nineteenth century. I repeat again my basic question, which is now starting to sound almost pathetic. It was basically an aside at first. I assumed she would laugh and clarify what they meant. Now I'm getting ticked off.

Our facilitator explains that Mississippi represents a small world view. I say that come to that, Mississippi is no smaller than Sicily. A couple of young women explain to me how black students are DISCONNECTED from school. I wonder silently if this could be because their heritage isn't considered adequate to write a school paper about. The facilitator explains that when he says a small world view, he doesn't mean the literal size of the place. I imagine banging my head on the table.

I sort of surrender, because this is starting to get surreal. Then we talk about how to connect black students. One white teacher explains how her class does a unit every year where they research the heritages of every person in class. She has seven black boys in her class, and "NONE of them knew where they came from until we learned about Africa in class."

Somehow I doubt that statement, lady. I do, however, see part of their unstated 'point', which is that West Africa, rather than anything that happened in the last, say 350 years, is the real 'heritage' of African-Americans.

Shortly after this we start hunting reasons for the African-American academic failure in earnest. We talk about this for about twenty minutes. No one says 'money', and no one says 'racism'. In fact, the word 'racism' is not spoken once during this whole discussion.

The facilitator discussed the school-phobic history of many black families--this is real enough--and then begins to explain that another problem is that 'Africa'--they never give a country or culture name, they don't even say 'West Africa'--has an ORAL tradition. These students come from an ORAL tradition, and then they wind up at school in a white, paper-and-pencil tradition, and, of course, feel alienated and fail.

I've got my jaw hanging open here. Of course black Americans have an oral tradition, but they also have a very imposing written one. (Thank God these people never got ahold of Richard Wright.) To be blunt, enslaved people risked their lives to learn to read. Over and over again, everywhere in the U.S. that it was forbidden. And plenty of white kids in U.S. schools had great-great-grandparents who got off the boat knowing how to write no more than their names. And now we say these kids fail in school because they have an ORAL tradition? Can I say that America has a RACIST and CLASSIST tradition, and perhaps we should put some blame on this rather than blaming the griots?

Sheesh. You know what the worst thing about this is? The worst thing about this is that these eejits think I'M uninformed, and maybe a little racist. And that they teach black students.

A Great Inventor, Age 11

The new kid in my class has a suggestion to stop problems with kids throwing paper and goofing around behind my back. I should mount a rearview mirror on my shoulder, he suggests.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bad Neighborhood Blues

The scary night tour of Richmond brought back memories of the summer before last, when I was looking for my first teaching job.

Some people have a lot of job hunting luck, and self confidence. Those people are not me. I was desperate to get something, anything, and I went mildly berkserk while looking for a gig. I essentially applied to anything that seemed as though an English preliminary credential qualified you for it, and I went to any (almost) any interview I could schedule. My range was any place I could get to in about two hours by transit.

Obviously, especially if you're me, this leads to some interesting times. The one interview I turned down was at a place where they wanted a teacher's aide for severely emotionally disturbed kids. We got to the part where the woman on the phone said 'and you'll be asked to assist in forcibly restraining students who are a danger to themselves or others..." and I said, in my sweetest voice "Honey, I think you have the wrong woman."

But I interviewed twice at the school for students with Aspergers. I interviewed in Castro Valley. I interviewed in Union City. I interviewed in Oakland and San Francisco, and Antioch and San Mateo. I interviewed at private schools, public schools and charter schools. I got treated like scum--typically--at a Jewish day school, and asked how I would deal with it if gang warfare broke out in my classroom.

The neighborhood was always a wild card. I got one interview at a place that was in a neighborhood I'd avoided like the plague when attending college nearby, but time had morphed it into a pleasant working-class neighborhood with flowerbeds in front of houses. I got off BART at stops I'd never heard of. I experienced the racist bus service that exists in the suburbs outside the inner Bay Area (the buses run seldom, the buses do not go convenient places, the buses look like hell, and white people do not ride them. I think people were slightly afraid of me. I looked insane, with my interview suits, and my TransitInfo printouts.)

I shlepped to Moraga. I shlepped to places I couldn't find on the map. But I only failed to get to one interview.

East Oakland.

It was for a summer school job for a new charter school. They did explain it was an urban neighborhood. They did explain that the students were disadvantaged, and lived locally. But hell, that didn't tell me anything. People in education talk like that any time the school is urban, and the kids' parents aren't defense attorneys.

So I mapped out my route on TransitInfo, and I went. First, I took BART to the Oakland Coliseum. After that it got interesting.

I caught the bus from the Coliseum. We went through a swamp (OK, just marshes by the bay), and then through some corporate villages, and then we hit an iffy residential neighborhood, and after that it just got worse. And worse. And worse.

Finally, I was let off on a stretch of highway, with a half-mile walk still to go. I examined the neighborhood to one side of the freeway.

First I found a gate in the wall alongside it, and walked in. I got about half a block in, maybe a quarter, and looked around.

Dead lawns. Burnt-out cars. Boarded up windows. Fences around each lawn. And, at about ten thirty in the morning on a Wednesday, grown men standing around in the street talking loudly to each other and screaming with laughter, apparently with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Me: medium-sized zaftig San Franciscan in black business suit, having heart attack. Retreat!

I walked down the highway a little more, and reached a large intersection where there was a gas station of a brand I didn't recognize on one corner. The wall ended. I peered down the street. Maybe I wasn't actually supposed to go that way. I am notoriously bad at reading maps.

There was a teenage boy sitting at the corner, so I asked him. He jumped. I mean, the kid looked scared. He gave me an incredulous stare--how the hell did a medium-sized zaftig San Franciscan in a business suit get here, and was she really there, or was he having a nervous breakdown? He did, however, confirm that my understanding of the directions was accurate.

I'm sort of iffy about telling this story since it's basically a story about a white girl being frightened of a black neighborhood, and I am enough of a creature of my college years (circa 1991-1995, the salad days of identity politics) to be afraid this sounds bad. But really. This was not urban, this was post-apocalyptic. I am not that much of a wimp. I interviewed in a really wide range of neighborhoods, and was happy in most of them. But this was a very bad location, and I looked like no one in my line of sight, neither in dress nor face. I stood out. A lot. In a place where you want to be invisible.

OK. Reality check time. No way in hell am I doing this every morning for six weeks. They would have to have a close relative or very good friend hostage at this school to get me to walk down there. So I cross the street to the gas station and ask the guy behind the counter to call me a cab. He is behind bulletproof glass, and isn't real friendly. He also tells me that I can call from the payphone outside.

I don't really want to go outside, but I do. I call a cab. They sound friendly until I give the address. Then they say it will be fifteen to twenty minutes, but I am not quite that naive. I understand that no cab will be coming. Ever.

Welcome to the 'hood.

I wait, and consider options. There is a bus stop nearby, so I figure I'll see if the cab does arrive, if not, wait for bus, do not panic.

After about ten minutes of waiting, a man in his sixties comes over and asks if I need a lift somewhere. He looks very pleasant, has a Ford pickup, and speaks to me kindly--I'm tempted. But a lifetime of not getting into cars with strange men prevails, and I tell him I'm fine. Clearly, this is a lie. He pretends to accept it.

Then Super Shuttle showed up. Super Shuttle is a local SF operation that drives you from your house to the airport. While the shuttle was gassing up, I asked if, for the standard fee, I could be taken to the nearest BART station. Or the airport. Wherever. No dice. They can't do pickups.

And then the bus arrived.

Unluckily, it was the SAME bus I'd ridden in on. The bus driver looked at me with some concern. "Did you get to where you were going, honey?" she asked.

"I found what I was looking for," I said.

My friend Niamh, who occcasionally posts here, suggests that the bus driver thought I was a high-priced call girl. Respectfully, she's nuts. If I was a high-priced call girl, I would not be wearing a suit from Mervyns, and I would not by TAKING THE BUS to East Oakland. I would have a car, if I were a high-priced call girl. And clothes from, say, Ann Taylor.

So I got home, called the school, and lied through my teeth. I said I had an urgent family crisis, and was not able to make, it, and that I was terribly sorry. I think the guy I contacted understood perfectly well what had happened. I never heard from the school again.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

4 Meme

West Bank Mama got me--and yes, I actually love these things!

Four jobs I've had:
1. Cat-schlock store clerk
2. Christmas cookie sales by phone
3. Tree saleswoman for JNF
4. Middle-school teacher

Four places I've lived:
1. San Francisco
2. Ireland
3. Cork
4. El Cerrito

Four of my favorite foods:
1. artichokes
2. burritos from Gordos
3. hot and sour soup at Ton Kiang
4. eggplant parmesan from Giorgio's

Four books I would read over and over:
1. A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley
2. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
3. Brendan O'Carroll's Agnes Browne books
4. The Once and Future King, by T.H. White

Four movies I would see over and over:
1. Mina Tannenbaum
2. Cradle Will Rock
3. Any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but especially The Two Towers
4. The Commitments (The Snapper is a close second in this category)

Four places I've been on vacation:
1. Monterey
2. San Diego
3. Washington D.C. (does a march count as a vacation?)
4. Dublin

Four places I would rather be:
1. Ireland
2. A friend's house
3. On a Marin beach--Drake's, maybe
4. Stacey's Books

Late Night In Richmond

So, the Balabusta'n'fella's friends down the street needed some help with the last stages of their move, and we've got a minivan. So we loaded up the minivan with various random stuff, and followed the male half of the couple up San Pablo Boulevard to the city of San Pablo.

We admired their new house, a small 1948 quasi-bungalow, which they are planning to modify in dramatic ways (refinishing everything, knocking down walls), and ate pizza. Then the fella and I attempted to drive home.

First we lost San Pablo. Then we took a weird turn west. Then we found the oh-god uckola parts of the city of Richmond. It's now a quarter of eleven at night. It's pitch black. The neighborhood keeps getting worse. We're trying to find a freeway onramp.

Finally we end up in a cul-de-sac, beyond which we can see the freeway. No use. We turn around and drive up the dark, dark, dark street.

There's a gas station at the corner. The fella tentatively suggests asking for directions. "OK", the Balabusta says, feeling faint.


"What have we got to lose?"

"Well, we could get shot," says the fella. The Balabusta notes at this point that the street, despite darkness, has a decent lot of people on it. They are all young, male, and moving SLOOOOOOWLY. It's freezing out.

We keep going. We retrace our path. We drive through post-apocalyptic neighborhoods, and then less awful ones, until finally the Balabusta concedes that her nervous-white-girl sense--one of my better superpowers--is down to 'tingle' rather than 'kicking like a mofo'.

We find the intersection that hornswoggled us the first time and try again. And again. No go. We begin to get somewhat baffled, and also frustrated. And fearful. We have a bad track record for getting out of Santa Clara (long story), and this seemed to be a similar situation.

Finally, we retraced back to the friends' home in San Pablo. "How do you get out of this horrible town?" we screamed as they opened the door.

Luckily, another mover was heading back to Oakland, and knew how to get on the 80. We followed, like a nervous duckling--and made it home by 11:30.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Do I want to see Munich?

The answer is probably no. But I do want to add, as an aside, that I have been hearing about how anti-Israel and hand-wringing _Munich_ is all over the Jewish blogs. I have no reason to doubt it. The guilt-ridden Mossad guy is a big ol' cliche, and honestly, I ain't in the mood.

Then I read the review in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. They're of the opinion that despite some backhanded attempts to humanize the Palestinians, the movie glosses over Israel's displacement and occupation of an indigenous people.

You can't please hardly anyone any of the time, can you?

Speaking of Mossad agents, does anyone out there watch NCIS? I am still mad at them for killing Kate off, but isn't Ziva gorgeous?