January 23, 2005
Promises in the Mist
I've always considered myself fortunate to have an innate curiosity about science, computers, religion, philosophy, culture, and politics. It's a pleasure to read different perspectives on the source of wisdom and the foundations of truth. My first seven summers between teaching were spent intensely reading Plato, Gould, Goethe, Kant, Augustine, Hawkings, Homer, and many others. I've listened to others speak about what's important to them and why, and I've tried to keep an open mind to what is Truth, what is Real, and what is Possible.
But now, at the other end of a long time spent searching for the above, I find myself disappointed. You see, there always seemed to me to be a promise made to anyone participating in the "Great Conversation" that there was a sort of destination awaiting anyone willing to spend the time and effort reading the difficult stuff. One day, you wake up and feel enlightened; you've arrived and congratulations, here's the secrets to it all. Here's Meaning, Purpose, and Morality. Use it for good and not evil.
I think, though, that I can only honestly say that the more one reads, the less one understands. To think about the human condition enough and maintain intellectual integrity is to whittle down the options to futility and nihilism. Not a despairing, kill yourself type meaninglessness, but an accepting, let's-all-laugh-or-we're-gonna-cry type existence, an acceptance of the impossibility of knowing anything for certain except what wells from within. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Frost's Fire and Ice, and Sartre's Nausea have risen in importance for me as I've aged, but even they are vindication, not direction.
I remember seeing a sig line on Slashdot that said: "There are no paths out here; there are no trees." That sums up nicely how I feel. I should have seen it coming when reading Job's or Faust's or Hamlet's words, but I guess I didn't want to admit that, when you glimpse behind the scenery of life, there's only scaffolding and rigging. Just keep reading. Nothing to see here.
Oh, and Molly's got some long overdue pics available!
January 20, 2005
White People Culture
Ya know, it may be futile, but it's always entertaining to try to figure out why teenagers behave the way they do. At its best it gives insight into the psyche, a glimpse into our unself-conscious selves.
One such insight came to me while observing one of my whitest, middle-classiest, never-been-to-the-hood boys talking "ghetto." He does it constantly but shifts into a caricature of ghetto talk when addressing black students in class, who just roll their eyes at him. Why does he insist on doing this?
He has no culture. White people have no culture. To be "black," even self-consciously, is to recognize and embrace a distinct culture. Think about this: a Mexican family eating "traditional" foods would dine on what? sopes, tacos, etc. What "traditional" foods would a white family eat? hamburgers? potatoes? mayonnaise?
The clothing teens wear--baggy pants, androgynous sportswear, expensive sneakers--can largely be attributed to hip-hop culture, which is dominated by African-American artists. White kids embrace this clothing and identify with this why? What are the options? Khakis? Business casual? No self-respecting, rebellious teen is gonna wear that unless forced. It's not cool. And it's not their culture.
What, if anything, is common among white people culturally? Ultra-sameness. Unwavering obedience. Conformity. We are what we're not. The only way to stand out in white culture is to do something "incorrect," like not mow your lawn often enough, speak another dialect, or, for gods' sake, wear navy and black together. This squashes spirit and stifles creativity, forming a negative culture, fearing the Other and constantly appealing to a lowest common denominator of thought, awareness, and creativity.
January 06, 2005
I've struggled this year with my job. Molly draws so much energy and time from me that I've basically been at "survival-level" teaching all year, meaning that I'm not working at the motivated and creative level I usually do.
To make matters worse, I'm teaching a full load of AP English classes as well as a new prep, English III, American Literature. That's old news for anyone who knows me and has heard me whine. What is new is a realization after several months of stress.
Normally, teachers vie for AP classes because they generally are full of motivated, college-bound teenagers eager to learn. But you know what? I don't want to teach these classes. I want my plain ol' sophomores back. My ego doesn't need to teach AP. Teaching sophomore regular English, I get paid the same with less than half the workload of essays and preparation. To a lot of other teachers, it sounds crazy to not want the AP kids. But the stress associated with huge classes and a broken system of prerequisites and expectations has led me, once again, to reflect on why I'm doing this job. I simply do not have the innate motivation and enthusiasm required of AP classes. Take them away.