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Monthly Archives: December 2015

I am sitting square in my youth, but at the same time, growing far above it and learning more about myself now than I ever did when I was in my early twenties and felt fresh and malleable. I really wasn’t, then, and I’m probably not even as malleable as I think I am now even. One change that’s developed in the past year or so, however, is that while before I was so ready to admit how right I was about certain things, now I feel even more ready to admit how wrong and/or inexperienced I am.

I realized this  while I was clearing out an old, personal Twitter account, deleting compromising tweets so I can use it, possibly, for more personal and family connections. I was so cocky, before, so stubborn in my beliefs and ready to be spiteful. Not saying I’m free of spite now, because I certainly still enjoy a bit of spite, but not nearly to the same degree as several years ago. I was happy to delete those tweets.

Another thing that’s developed in my mind that wasn’t there to such a degree before—my gratitude for other people. I’ve realized that I would be nothing without the rich connections I’ve built in my life, this coinciding with the fact that I’ve also been very harsh toward other people during my young lifetime and have burnt many bridges. Some of my bridge burning has been cruel, but some has been as an act of self-preservation, to remove poison from my life. I can look back, now, and discern when I was right and when I was wrong. So this leaves me, a gracious mess of harsh and cynical bite and loving cling. I’m working on softening up, being more friendly. That’s an ongoing project.

But the people I’ve known. The ways they’ve helped me grow and patched up the areas of my personality that were gaping holes. I want to be the kind of person who always recognizes a good friend, so I can keep my good friends and we can continue to help each other. There are two things in this life that seem to be very Good—and those are soul-enriching music and soul-enriching conversations with other people. If I can continue to cultivate those things, maybe I’ll have an amazing life.

Once, during an extremely foolish period, I was kicked out of my apartment by an ex-boyfriend and left to scramble, cat in my arms and a car full of my possessions, for a place to live before I started my student teaching. I was at this chaotic point in my life where I was trying to kick-off my career amidst a crew of people that were either actively exploiting me or about to leave me to build their own careers. As I was in the middle of losing my mind, a friend told me to come live with her, in the apartment she was moving into. I knew she thought I was a silly, over-the-top person, but she wanted to help me. Plus, I would help with rent. After all, the apartment was a small one bedroom apartment.

So we got cozy together, sleeping together in the same small bedroom.

This action on her part made a huge impression on me. She offered her living space to me, and this allowed me to thrive. Now, whenever the situation arises, I feel I must do this for others. I let people stay with me, and offer them my things when they are in trouble. I have to, because I once benefited from such charity from a friend. Not saying that I’m all-giving, because when I sense that someone is nasty or exploitative, I still cut them off.

One of those friends who has slept on my couch, sleeping with his eyes open (literally), drinking all my booze and lighting things on fire, answered my calls when we were in the process of moving to another state. He came over with his tool bag and an electric saw and cut up all the furniture I couldn’t get rid of and couldn’t put out on the street without receiving a fine. Thinking he would leave, disappear maybe, like he always does—he didn’t. He stayed, for days, helping us pack and load the truck. We hadn’t asked for all that, but he did it anyway, and I will always be grateful for that.

Especially for his quick action during a ridiculous scene: Just as we were about to get in the Uhaul and drive away from our amazing, beautiful old apartment forever, I let the cats out of the bedroom so they could use the litter box before we put them in their carriers. My favorite cat, my big beast, bee-lined from the bedroom and opened the door under the sink with a purpose that confounds me still. He climbed right in, slinking into a hole where the pipes went, and got himself lodged under the sink. Stuck. In a matter of two seconds.

I start wailing, thinking we’re going to need to find someone to cut the sink up and then deal with the landlord and delay everything and lose money in the process in order to save my poor stupid cat, when our bug-eyed friend appears with two-by-fours he whipped out of nowhere—I still don’t know where he got them—and used them to create a wedge. We pried the sink from the ground enough for me to lay flat on the floor and drag my cat out with one arm.

Another friend is always ready with a bottle of champagne whenever there’s something to celebrate, whether that be a Master’s degree obtained or a birthday. He’s helped me unseal my car door when it was frozen shut and -25 degrees Fahrenheit out, and no one else would come help. We trudged together in the icy, cavernous world.

Another always lets us sleep on her couch when we’re back in our home city, and always listens, no  matter how heated the rant. Her advice is stoic, solid, spectacular.

I want to absorb the positive qualities in those around me, recognize them, in the hopes of growing myself. Growing because of them, growing with them. I hope I can keep these people in my life, and obtain friends of equal caliber by nurturing a good character and being good to myself as well.

 

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Those who are familiar with Shirley Jackson most likely first read her through her popular classic short story The Lottery, now a staple in high school English classes. I remember being in 10th grade and reading this short story and thinking, “Yes, finally, this is the human brutality I suspect exists in full force out in the world!” Literature is, after all, another tool for exploration as you grow older and everything becomes more twisted. When things grow more demented, we naturally seek answers to the question: What the fuck?

I love Shirley Jackson because she is, at the briefest glance, a housewife and mother of several children, but also much more than that, her concise writing revealing struggles with spiritual darkness and personality-strangling fears, her own life plagued by private demons. Her name carries weight with it in terms of horror, and it pleases me that women spearhead this favorite genre of mine. Look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for instance. And now, Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House is often considered one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th century.

Most reviews of the book focus on the opening lines, and they’re just so well-written and bear such an onset of foreboding atmosphere that they grip you in that perfect cold way horror should grip a person upon first encounter:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

These opening lines also invoke that common question when it comes to fear and horror: is what we are experiencing even real? Or is it in our head, related to an ever-worsening grip on reality?

The book was published in 1959, just before the 1960s rich onslaught of now-classic horror films: Psycho (1960), Black Sunday (1960), The Birds (1963), Blood Feast (1963), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The book contains the most basic of horror film tropes, such as the psychological question of the sanity behind what’s happening, and the fault-seeking and anticipation of demise in terms of the characters.

The book has a delightful presentation of characters, similar to what one would expect from a typical horror movie. You can empathize with the characters just enough to care (poor Eleanor, alone taking care of her mother, with such a nasty sister), but their faults needle you in such a way that you can see the downfall coming, anticipate it and imagine what it could be for each character based on their own faults (Eleanor, so needy, so immature and judgmental).

The doctor in the story, the one who arranges for the characters to come visit this haunted house for a scientific experiment on psychic and supernatural activity, states this trope bluntly at one point: “I think that an atmosphere like this one can find out the flaws and faults and weaknesses in all of us, and break us apart in a matter of days.” Hello, every horror movie ever. The horror fan certainly loves to see people battle fear, as we imagine how good of a fight we could truly put up in such a situation.

The descriptions of the house are some of the strongest parts of this book, simple but vivid. The idea of movement is attributed to the hills; they are always hidden, or creeping forward, or suffocating the house. The personification is unsettling. At one point the reader discovers that the house is built in such a way that all of the angles are slightly askew by a small fraction, creating an overall sense of umheimlich and loss of direction. The idea likens to House of Leaves, except 4 decades before its time.

The ending is quick, and some things that do need some description are never explained. I don’t mind that the house is never really fully explained—the antagonist needs some mystery to it—but there are things that really do need some answering. Like what was chasing Theodora and Eleanore outside the house? Without addressing this question, the scene seems off, vague, strange. Not scary. Just a hint would have done.

But overall, lackluster ending aside (horror is so prone to lackluster endings), the book is creepy and enjoyable. Until the banter between the characters becomes too  much at the end (and I think we are supposed to think it’s too much: look at them trying so hard to impress), I enjoyed the dialogue. The question at the end of the day is how real the haunting even really is, or was it in their heads, or the grand delusions of the main character, Eleanore?

Is it the house that kills, or just people, and their paranoia, harming each other and themselves?

Also unsettling is a statement made by Eleanore near the end of the book, where she protests to leaving the house because nothing has ever happened to her before. This is the first time something has ever happened. The idea that we can be so bored with our lives that terror is inviting is not something so unrelatable. For someone who feels trapped anyway by a dull life, fear can be that inviting.

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I recently read this NPR report about Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that technology in the classroom can help with education equity. The article carries an air of skepticism. While usually incredibly disinterested in Zuckerberg and Zuckerberg-related topics, this is something I have been thinking a lot about lately—or at least, specifically technology and education equity. And, as a teacher, I’ve grown very certain of one thing:

A quality education involves every single student possessing a school laptop or similar device.

Nothing short of that. I feel as if many people recoil from this idea, thinking a child being given a laptop from school—or a school being able to afford that many laptops—indicates something luxurious, a spoiled child. Obviously this is a financial challenge, but one of utmost importance. Education is substance. This isn’t even encompassing what education could be, but in the very least what it should involve to be of quality. On the brink of 2016, to learn without a computer is to go without a practical education.

The idea of “One Laptop Per Child” is hardly a new one. If you’re around my age, you remember shuffling off to computer class in elementary school and tapping away at those Apple IIs. But this is not what I’m talking about, not this “specials” class that occurs every other day or the occasional booking of a computer lab. Labs are nice, but we need integration of computer programs into every aspect of education. This means the presence of an on-hand tool at all times within the learning environment.

Personal access to laptops has been argued to benefit students by teaching them how to use a computer, motivating and engaging learners, and helping them stay organized. Not to mention what it brings to the table for individualized education services. These are a given, but emphasis is not necessarily always placed on what I feel is most important for students: the connection with school and the work place. All schools are focused now on the idea of college and career readiness, but aside from the initial implication of those buzzwords, what does it really mean to be college and career ready?

I believe in order to be career ready, students need to operate in an environment that reflects actual work environments. Everything should be genuine, not a cardboard cut-out classroom. Students should be given control and responsibility within a professional setting for them to operate, in which they are taken seriously. The classroom should be part of the real world as much as possible, because, hell, it is the real world, isn’t it? If it’s all artificial preparation for an abstract setting, then why bother?

What is useful are real world applications. Programs used within companies. Web sites commonly used in the work place. The expression of intricate ideas via social media. I have two different school experiences to draw from, one in terms of college readiness in seventh graders, the other in terms of career at the high school level.

Last year, I facilitated a long-term research project with the seventh graders in which we took a set of Chromebooks and the students had to individually research a topic of their choice, as long as it was related to American civil rights. The students loved it and dug up more information on their own than I could have forced them to read. In order to find useful information for their paper, they had to practice the basic skill of ascertaining the quality of an internet source—which a 12 year old is very bad at. But they needed to learn, and so they did. Unfortunately, the laptops weren’t theirs and they had never really set up a drive of any sort, so the writing organization wasn’t easily accomplished using files and folders, and a lot of paper was used to jot things down. Still, the students had an array of notes and sources at their desk as they researched on the computer. Very much like it would be for a student writing an assignment for a college class. Ideally, if the students had a drive already established, we could have practiced organizing notes and files in a folder for the project. They could have had research for multiple classes divvied up in their own personal work space. Without that, the research was a bit of a mess and many students (being the 12 year olds they were) lost their notes and had to start over at some point.

The high school example is a much better one. I’m currently working at a nice school district that, despite being composed of some lower middle-class townships, has somehow been managed well by administration and allocated funds wisely. Every student is given a Chromebook to keep for as long as they attend. The STEM wings of the building are also up-to-date with engineering and printing equipment. They’re impressive to see. When I subbed in an engineering lab, the students all took out their laptops and pulled up software used to design models. The graphic designing students had up-to-date software, and with their imaginations and the equipment they could create almost anything they wanted. Google Classroom is employed so the students have constant access to their classwork and they frequently email their teachers. When I substitute for a subject I hardly know, like say, math of any sort, I can pull up a program on a SMARTboard and let an interactive video lesson on the topic unfold, letting students walk up to the board and teach their own classmates while I facilitate.

Not only that, but the high school has its own student-run IT program. Students can work for the school IT, sitting at the desk in the library during certain assigned periods, and fix other students’ laptops. A few are sent to teachers’ classrooms to fix desktops or help a teacher with a program that isn’t working right. Every time I’ve seen a technological issue being addressed, it’s been by a student. The experience is invaluable—to be able to graduate from high school while possibly having up to 4 years of IT work experience is an incredible leg-up.

The attitude is not that their laptop is a personal play thing, but equitable to a work laptop. Necessary for personal business.

The Zuckerberg article treats the idea of personalized learning as simply a buzzword, and though buzzword it may be, it is also more than that. There is actual substance behind the idea of students using not just one academic tutor program but multiple real world programs that give them experience before they are even out in the working world. The evidence provided in the article that the use of technology only introduces a digital divide involves free online courses, already accessed by the privileged. But I’m saying free on the side isn’t good enough here—we need schools that provide the tools. The schools need the money to do this. The article says that in order for the laptop use to be implemented, schools need to be “redesigned, in some cases classrooms rebuilt or reconfigured, and teachers need to be retrained and supported to use tech more effectively” as if this already hasn’t been happening for years. The flipped classroom is becoming more and more common, and teachers are in constant training regarding new technology and programs.

Money is needed to make the build up that is already occurring bloom into an effective and beneficial system. The outcome is only positive, and we need to reinforce this as much as possible. Money needs to go to education in order to make this ideal a reality: a nation where the students are well-equipped in order to innovate and help improve individual communities and solve global problems.On their school-provided personal laptop.

You don’t do those things with just a pen and a paper anymore.

 

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