Friday, October 21, 2005

Backlash Among the Young

Having taught as long as I have taught, I've come to know that most teachers are liberals and the rest of us duck for cover on a regular basis. I also realize that some liberal-type folks push their personal agendas a wee bit too far with their students. Case in point, a pair of my students came to me, let's just call them Ian and Janette (for accuracy's sake, let's just note that I did NOT call them Antwan and Taniqua). Now, my students understand that I have an open door policy for all students, no matter what their ethnicity, and many feel free to come visit and chat before or after school.

So late one afternoon while I was still reading "developing" students' papers and contemplating joining the Apostrophe Protection Society, in come Ian and Janette with their knickers all in a twist. I was surprised, because I hadn't had these two in class for a year, and our conversations had been limited to occasional chats and mere nods in the hallways. They plunked down on the floor near my desk and started to unload about their day...and their week...and their semester, most especially about this year's English class.

It seems that their English teacher had spent the entire first six weeks of school focusing on racism, genocide, and the Holocaust, all rotating around a 100-page book that anyone could read in one evening. The projects the kids were assigned to do in conjunction with the book, well, they were Holocaust morning, noon, and night.

Ian and Janette howled. Not literally, of course, but Ian spat a lot of angst and information as fast as he could talk. Seems they'd been lobbying for a balance of books from a European cultural model on the world literature list, but the teacher had chosen Asian, African, and Latin American books for the most part, and the European book she'd chosen was this Holocaust-focused one-hundred page epic. "Why not the European classics?" he sputtered. Indeed, they were nowhere to be found. Since Ian and Janette were of European descent, and students of the minority foreign language (German) taught at our school, Europe fascinated and enchanted them.

Janette piped in and added that, while they were required to do a project about the Holocaust, no one had specified the exact parameters, so they'd decided to do the "other side". Ian was going to do a profile of Adolf Hitler pre-WWII, totally factual. And Janette was going to do a profile of neo-Nazi groups today.

Well, y'all know I am a Christian and a Kinist and that is a very different frame of reference from pagan neo-Nazis. But I had to stifle a smile because it had only been a couple of weeks ago when those middle-aged white teachers had spontaneously combusted at that racist art exhibit, and here were a couple of lily-white Eurokids combusting on their own as well.

Nothing like a nice little fire to warm the hearth! I can't wait to go home and tell Big Sam.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Vest-Pocket Rebellion

Every so often the local government school teachers get a mind to better themselves and their instruction by highballing down the freeway to the closest major Art Museum for one of their educator events. The latest excursion looked to be a fine one, all about art and self-image, with the museum offering fancy little cracker snacks and free tours of the latest exhibit. So I signed on the dotted line and hopped into the van with another teacher, looking forward to the event. Big Sam doesn't mind my leaving him at home for these things because he's never been the one for art museums or the snooty people who tend to gather there, and no one ever said a fancy cracker snack was a full meal, at least not to him.

Racing down the freeway and dodging all the semis and overpowered little Hondas with spoilers left me glad to put my feet on solid ground when we got to the museum. Well, I might have thought twice or thrice the minute I stepped up to the museum door and realized that the exhibit advertised as being about self-image in art was really all about race, and not just celebrating our differences. No, sir.! But I smiled and walked right on in, heading for the cracker snacks table. If I was going to be offended, by gum, I was at least not going to be offended on an empty stomach.

At the cracker snack table I looked around and noticed that most of the other teachers there had, like me, skin the color of the driven snow, not counting the silver and gray hairs that spread through their formerly luxuriant tresses, now a little thinning from age and lack of hormones. The only "people of color" there were the museum's education director, who was the color most common in Asian countries and her associate, whose skin and accent echoed the tones of the Hindu Kush. To a person, the teachers were white, and probably for the most part would have classified themselves as liberal...well, at least that's what I believed because I know teachers, having been around them for what seems like way more than a century.

The exhibit was organized along tiresome and predictable lines, and the two lovely little teenagers (both very much white) who lead our tour were completely in earnest. Lynching = bad. (well, no duh, when was the last time you met anyone, even a kinist like me, who said that lynching was a good idea?) White man with weapon = the (d)evolution of mankind. What can you expect of a white guy with a weapon? (I dunno? A protected family?) An image here, an image there, all lined up to prove that white folks were richer than everybody else and dadgummit if everyone else wasn't oppressed as all getout, especially those Chicano laborers in the fields. Wasn't that obvious from the Caesar's Palace billboard over their stooped backs in the picture?

Well, the little group in my tour was looking pretty glum and uncomfortable at this point. They shuffled from foot to foot as if gauging how many steps to the exit, when one wild-maned woman with deep, wise crinkles around her eyes piped up and said, "Why don't any of the pictures show those Mexicans' children, who speak English and are doing fine in school?" (Now you and I might have some issues about how well those children really are doing in school, but that's another topic!) Well, you might have asked those two girls to swallow a horse, they looked so choked up and confused. At seventeen any deviation from the script is cause for dismay and panic.

The blonde finally got her poise back and said, "Well, every curator has a point of view, and this is the point of view of the curator of this exhibit." She slipped back beneath the frozen surface of her professional lie, back where it was safe and everything was scripted and O.K.

Wild-maned lady piped up again. "Maybe it's time for another view," and stomped off. Our group began murmuring about having "seen this all before and maybe it WAS time for a change," drifting away from the point of conflict to allow the children time to exit the situation without too much loss of face.

The children expressed blank-faced thanks for us having taken the tour, and they hoped that we would schedule fieldtrips for our students to see the current exhibit. White heads topped with grey hair nodded absently and sidled off to look at different pieces in the show.

Well, my eyesight might not be too good, but no one has ever accused me of being hard of hearing. So I wandered through the exhibit with my friend, staying within hearing distance of the others who'd shared the tour with us. And I was astonished at what I heard. There were rumblings of dissatisfaction with being blamed for everything, after having done so much for so many for so long. Not exactly the outspoken frankness of wild-maned lady, but drops and growing rivulets of discontent, of whiteness acknowledging whiteness and the things that had been done that were intended for the good, whatever the outcome. Even my friend spoke, quietly acknowledging the truth swimming beneath the frozen surface of her professional lie.

It wasn't much, really. A vest-pocket rebellion, a tempest in a teapot, a whirlpool in a water bucket.

But it was a start.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Burden of My Ancestors

My side of our lopsided, loving, last-ditch-effort-for-the-Lost-Cause family wasn't even speaking English when the War Between the States took place. No indeed, they sounded like the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show, but of course, television hadn't been thought of yet so they didn't know any better, they just talked that way. They came by that doo-de-doo-de-doo-de-doo all natural-like, a blessing of their many ancestors up there in the frozen north. Ultima Thule and all that. Thor and Odin and all that.

Now that Odin worship thing! Nasty little business. It sure puts me in a humble mode of thought when I realize my ancestors practiced human sacrifice. Sometimes I get the creepiest mental image of people who look a lot like me dead and hanging off an oak tree, or even worse, live and hanging other people who look like my klnd of folks off that same oak tree.

There but for the grace of God go I!

I sure do bless the memory of those early Christians who weren't afraid to speak truth to my probably smelly and menacing ancestors. I bless even more the thought of the first of my ancestors to listen, I bless the moment when the Holy Spirit said, "You, oh smelly and menacing Nordic type, are one of my chosen, one of my elect. I have loved you since the beginning of time, in spite of the smell, in spite of your tendency to raid first and civilize later, in spite of the oak tree and all that dangles there. The sins you are repenting of right now are forgiven, as well as the ones you don't even know to be sins yet. My Son has taken care of them all for you. Come enjoy the pleasures of my Kingdom."

I bow in gratefulness, remembering the oak tree and the burden He has forgiven, the burden of my ancestors.