Vices we love: December 2005

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Circle of life

So I've been back in the U.S. for 13 days now. Cabin fever started setting in and I came down to New York City. Malachy McCourt wrote of coming back from Ireland "I expected everything to be completely different, but of course nothing changed." How true.

To begin with, I went to P.S. 153, known as the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Elementary School, situated at 147th street and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem. I taught there briefly in 1999 when, ecstatic over a bit of unexpected state funding, the administration decided to start a reading program for second and third graders who were behind their peers. I came in and asked which books we would be using.

"Could you ask your mom to bring in some childrens books she read to you as a child?" Not only because they were in Hungarian (my favorite centered on a misunderstood recluse named The Terrifying Mr.Rust- biographers take note) but because my mother, for whom life is a chore, read few of them and did so with great heaving sighs of reluctance.

I also did not have a classroom so wound up sitting in a semi-circle on the floor. An elderly Japanese lady, evidently let loose from Wyoming only recently, found herself at the mercy of Dominican and African-American kids who reduced her to tears daily. I can still remember her screams of "I will have a present for you if you are nice!" vibrating through the halls.

Anyhow, I just returned after a five year absence and, amazingly, everyone there remembered me at least in general terms if not in details. Not too many suit-clad, sometimes-yarmulke wearing youngsters pass through those halls. The kids were being kept in line by mostly female schoolteachers and several uniformed policemen whose appearance, though not welcome. was not unexpected either.

Anyway, this is a nice seague into an essay a friend of mine wrote at Smearm a while back. He worked during the 2004-2005 schoolyear for the New York teaching fellows. During the course of the year, he worked for three schools in Brooklyn. In his words:


Your children should not necessarily be awarded with a cell phone and Ipod at age 14 for consistently failing every class that they take. If you buy your kids a cell phone, please teach them how to put it on silent mode so that I don't have to. Because that is just sad. Also, people existed for thousands of years without cell phones, and everything was just fine. If there's some sort of emergency, all you would have to do is call the school office, and they could retrieve your child. Instead, every time a cell phone rings, my ridiculously ADD kids start singing whatever shitty R & B song is set as the ringtone, and I have to repeat at least a minute of lecture prior to the said ring, that is after I take a minute or two to quiet the class down, usually unsuccessfully.

The same goes for clothes. Many of you come from underprivileged backgrounds, and I can respect that. However, I find it difficult to respect that at all when you buy your children 150 dollar air jordans every three months (after they go out of style) not to mention 100 dollar pairs of jeans, etc. Perhaps you should spend the equivalent amount of money on books or vacations, considering many of your children are, sorry to say, illiterate and completely ignorant of the world around them. If you reward your child for being illiterate and unable to add fractions despite years of instruction in that regard, they will probably continue to do what they are doing, ie. going to school, acting like 5 year olds, and going home not having learned a damn thing.

Also, it is possible that you should tell them that in order to be a rap star, they have to have a vocabulary that consists of more words than, "gay, fag, money, bitch, lexus," and about 30 other related words. I would like to think anyway. And if they want to be a lawyer and thus think they don't have to learn math, you might want to tell them that knowing how to add integers is probably a necessary pre-requisite to people considering you highly educated. Also, you might want to tell them that if they are flunking 9th grade, they'd better stop soon considering they have 10 years of schooling left before they reach said goal. The same applies to those wishing to be doctors, etc., or any other profession that requires an education. I'm sorry to tell you this, but your child will not reach those professions on a moonbeam and a wish. They require that they graduate high school and get accepted to a college, and that they are able to fulfill the requirements of a college education.

If your children are watching TV for four hours a day, they are probably not doing very much of their homework. Not to mention that most of the stuff they watch rots their brain, but I'll let you figure decide that on your own.

If I call you and tell you that your son or daughter was talking non-stop in class, called me a "bitch-ass faggot who didn't get it in the ass last night," and then threw yet another chair at me, I am telling the truth. Please treat them as if they had done said actions in your presence, which I'm sure would warrant a serious ass-whooping. I am not allowed to whoop their ass, and to their educational detriment, I believe. If you take them out that night and buy them the earlier mentioned air jordans, they are probably going to act like maladjusted kindergartners the next day as well. In fact, if you don't at least tell them that the next time they pull a stunt like that, which they do almost every day, that you are going to stomp them into the ground and refuse to buy them anything except rice and water for the next year, they are probably going to continue whatever they are doing.

If your child never attends class and never does work, I am afraid I do not have time to call every single one of you to tell you this every single day. Whereas I have 150 kids to keep track of and attempt to educate, you have one, or maybe two or three. If your child is skipping class, it is not my fault, and if they are lying to you about it, it is not my fault. I am a teacher, not a magician. So please don't ask me why your kids are skipping my class or acting like morons in my class. I don't know. Perhaps you should ask them. Believe it or not, you are probably more responsible for your child's education than I am, and you have infinitely more power in assuring that your child does not grow up to be an illiterate idiot with not a single inkling of what the word responsibility might mean, not to mention a number of other important words and concepts.

Yours in education,
An anonymous Brooklyn schoolteacher

After making my rounds uptown, I headed south to talk to Sean Luke a recruiter who is ethical enough to recognize that his best years are being spent selling slime. This of course leads to alcohol consumption and low-grade depression, which requires Zoloft, all of which requires that he keep his job and continue selling slime.

Which, in a roundabout way, takes us to the title of this humble essay. Everything that you or I do or say is connected to other people whom we are bound to for long periods of time. I moved to Asia to break out of Harlem, not because it was dangerous or violent, but because it was just so damned depressing. But coming back, I see the same people at the same places doing the same things. If I do not take it upon myself to do something different, I will also be moving along in the same circle, maybe for a lifetime.

End of lecture.

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