Off Duty Mom

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On “Saving the Children”

What do we even want from kids?

What is the end goal of parenting and schooling and churning out adult humans…like…at ALL?

“If the answer were simply to push more and more kids into college, the United States would be entering its democratic prime,” writes George Packer for The Atlantic on March 10, 2022. He asserts that the function of school in this country has shifted considerably throughout our history. He writes, “what is school for? This is the kind of foundational question that arises when a crisis shakes the public’s faith in an essential institution. ‘The original thinkers about public education were concerned almost to a point of paranoia about creating self-governing citizens,’ Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told [him]. ‘Horace Mann went to his grave having never once uttered the phrase college- and career-ready. We’ve become more accustomed to thinking about the private ends of education. We’ve completely lost the habit of thinking about education as citizen-making.’”

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So, sincerely, what is it that we are doing as parents and teachers and…adults? What’s the point of educating young people?

It’s been reported widely that attitudes about how much community members and other non-educators ought to have a “say” in how and what schools teach. Rather famously, a school board in Tennessee banned the inclusion of the World War II graphic novel, Maus, due to NUDITY, of all things, though the book is about the goddamn Holocaust and depicts the true realities of what millions of human beings experienced. The book doesn’t depict any of this as GOOD, mind you. In fact, it recognizes the atrocities of the historical events, yet that context didn’t seem to matter to a 10-person school board in McMinn County who voted unanimously to remove this “offensive” book from its school’s shelves.

WHY?

A great framing of the incident is that “people with the power to shape the education of kids looked at content without context and made a decision rooted in anti-intellectualism and ignorance. Education isn’t about shielding kids from painful truths,” writer Ryan Britt claimed in an article at Fatherly.com. “It’s about helping contextualize those truths. Maus is one of the best examples of how horrible moments from history can be sublimated into profound, life-changing art. And, decision-makers who feel otherwise are edging toward the horrible book-burnings of the Nazis themselves.”

So, I ask again: WHAT IS THE GOAL HERE?

Photo of Birkenau gate by Frederick Wallace on Unsplash

I guess I can at least accept that “protecting kids from scary or grown-up stuff” is AN answer to the question of “why did you perform an Orwellian action of dictating what young people should and shouldn’t know about actual, real history?” But, in the long run, when these young people become older people, what is the hope of who those people will BE? Do we WANT folks who do not have any context for what happened to close to 10 million human beings, 6 million of whom were tossed in the air as infants and shot or sent to die choking, bleeding deaths in gas chambers because of their positions on how to recognize and worship a deity? Like, are we HOPING to create a populace who is “protected” from history to the point that they are not aware of it? British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And, ya know, he was THERE for World War II, so maybe he knows things or something? Or, like he did know things. He was born in the 1870’s, so he’s not around anymore, but you get the idea.

Packer’s article in The Atlantic continues to assert that “education is a public interest, which explains why parents shouldn’t get to veto any book they think might upset their child, whether it’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Beloved. Public education is meant not to mirror the unexamined values of a particular family or community, but to expose children to ways that other people, some of them long dead, think.” So why in the name of all things big and small would anyone be so arrogant as to contend that THEIR PERSONAL feelings about nudity in a freaking Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the planet’s most horrific war should be taken into account, especially when those arrogant people are not, themselves, educators?

If you have ever been an elementary school teacher, you know that even the youngest of kids can learn to get along with others. Elementary school teachers, in fact, demand that as a fundamental rule in their classrooms. So, it is possible for human beings to coexist peacefully. Just ask your average 5-year old. Peaceful coexistence does not happen without some effort, though, and whether you’re trying to cooperate to complete a morning routine at the kindergarten daily calendar or discuss the merits of a certain political system in a college classroom, such collaboration can only be found through mutual respect, common ground, and a desire to behave like civilized human beings.

The banning of books and the takeover of American schools by ignorant and ill-informed, power-driven non-educators is a cyclical nightmare. The less and less people read, discuss, debate, and think, the more and more they will find literature, discourse, disagreement, and contemplation “dangerous” or undesirable. And, in turn, the less and less people will read, discuss, debate, and think.

Perhaps this is the English teacher in me coming out, but as far as I am concerned, reading is one of the most important activities for the human mind and reading about ideas different from your current ones is paramount to building better citizens of humanity.

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Reading is different, perhaps, for those skilled in the art of doing in than it is for laypeople. As a long-time English teacher, I get that. I know that I see things in literature that kids don’t see at first. One of my favorite tools is a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. In it, he actually discusses what the purpose of both sex and violence are in books. One of my favorite quotes of his from that book is: “When they’re writing about other things, they really mean sex, and when they write about sex, they really mean something else.  If they write about sex and mean strictly sex, we have a word for that.  Pornography.” This is where the breakdown happens, I think. Maus is NOT pornography. If it were, it would deserve to be banned. But, a NAKED CARTOON MOUSE is NOT pornography and now here we are: a book banned in a backwards school district for what is, really, no good reason whatsoever.

In fact, the delineation between what is LITERATURE and what is a BOOK lies in this differentiation between sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) and that which sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) represents. I created a lesson on this very idea some time ago and I phrased it well then, so I am not going to reinvent the wheel here, but rather quote myself, I guess: “Thomas C. Foster explains, ‘Violence is one of the most personal and even intimate acts between human beings, but it can also be cultural and societal in its implications.’  Think of Macbeth ‘unseaming’ the traitor in Act I of Macbeth.  He must get very close to him.  He can undoubtedly smell the blood.  He’ll get plenty of blood and bone on his own body.  Organs will burst.  He’ll watch life drain from his eyes.  This is personal.  It says something about the kind of man Macbeth is and the kind of patriotism he had — the loyalty he had to his king — before meeting those witches.” So, while some non-educators might attempt to protect teenagers’ virginal eyes and pure minds from the scaries one might find in Shakespeare or Spiegelman or Lee or Huxley or Rowling or Steinbeck or Walker or Morrison or Fitzgerald or Angelou, what they’re protecting those kids from is LEARNING.

Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, literary works — even the “mature” ones — have a deeply important place in schools that hope to build better thinkers, better debaters, better collaborators, better citizens, and better humans. It is only if you are NOT trying to build those things that it makes sense to keep kids from reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men or The Color Purple. A 2019 survey by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation demonstrated “why a greater emphasis on American history learning is essential to the nation. The Foundation found that in the highest-performing state, only 53 percent of the people were able to earn a passing grade for U.S. history. People in every other state failed; in the lowest-performing state, only 27 percent were able to pass” (Source: Woodrow Wilson Foundation Finds Only One State Can Pass U.S. Citizenship Exam) In Tennessee, where that ban on Maus was, the study found that 62% of people earned a 59% or lower (a failing grade) on that citizenship exam. Only 3% of testers in that state earned an “A.”

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“Amid the GOP’s national campaign to purge ‘leftist ideology’ from public schools, local officials across the nation are now banning certain books that deal with race, sex, and gender, from school shelves, writes Jon Skolnik for The Salon in a January 2022 article. In addition to the well-publicized ban on Maus in Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi have ramped up their book-banning of late. That citizenship test I mentioned before? Nearly 70% of Mississippians failed that. The folks of Missouri fared better but still 61% of them failed. Do we need kids in these places to be learning LESS?

The Humanities (literature, history, art) have a place in society-building. Packer’s The Atlantic article goes on to assert that “the best way to interest young people in literature is to have them read good literature, and not just books that focus with grim piety on the contemporary social and psychological problems of teenagers. We sell them insultingly short in thinking that they won’t read unless the subject is themselves. Mirrors are ultimately isolating; young readers also need windows, even if the view is unfamiliar, even if it’s disturbing. The ability to enter a world that’s far away in time or place; to grapple with characters whose stories might initially seem to have nothing to do with your life; to gradually sense that their emotions, troubles, revelations are also yours—this connection through language to universal human experience and thought is the reward of great literature, a source of empathy and wisdom.”

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are, of course, incredibly important for young people to have access to in education. These areas are where we, as a society, build DOERS. These STEM subjects create problem-solvers, and critical thinkers. But, the Humanities are where empathy, understanding, communication, diplomacy, maturity, and wisdom are built. And, BOTH areas — those appealing to the left-brained AND the right — are responsible for helping folks test ideas, support claims, evaluate thoughts, and draw meaningful conclusions.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

So, again, at the risk of being a bit of a broken record here, I ask: WHAT DO WE WANT FOR OUR KIDS? What is the goal of education? Despite my rant in my tiny corner of the internet, “well-meaning” (mostly white, cisgendered, straight, “Christian” adults) will continue to rail against naked mice, schools of witchcraft and wizardry, and learning that American history is –whether you want to talk about it or not–built on a fundamental foundation of white supremacy. I don’t imagine that Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky (the three worst-performing states on that US Citizenship Exam which, by the way, demonstrated that a huge number of Americans don’t know what a Constitutional Amendment is) are going to start to suddenly embrace Walk Two Moons and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but they should.

It can start with you, though. Consider buying or borrowing one of these books. Read them with your child. Talk. Think. Share ideas.

Most frequently banned books for elementary-aged kids:

  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  4. I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  5. The Captain Underpants Series by Dav Pilkey
  6. New Kid by Jerry Craft

Most frequently banned books for middle-school kids:

  1. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  2. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  3. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  6. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Most frequently banned books for high school kids:

  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  3. Native Son by Richard Wright (one of my personal favorite books ever!)
  4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Or, if you’re interested, check out these book-ban lists and information about what some states are currently working on:

  1. TEXAS
  2. MISSISSIPPI
  3. OHIO
  4. ALABAMA
  5. GEORGIA
  6. OKLAHOMA
  7. ARKANSAS
  8. SOUTH CAROLINA
  9. FLORIDA
  10. NORTH CAROLINA
  11. UTAH
  12. ARIZONA

It’s Toxic?

I blame Britney Spears.

At some point, and I think it is her fault, the word “toxic” entered our lexicon in a way that provided youth culture with a new way of finding things to be offensive.

“Toxic parenting,” “Toxic Masculinity,” “Toxic Social Media,” “Toxic Culture,” everything was “toxic” and, apparently, remains so.

I mean, I’m not saying that these things don’t exist. I’m a pretty staunch feminist. I am certain that toxic masculinity, for example, is very real. But, like anything else, there’s been an extremification or a bastardization of the term. It is worth less than it once was. And its definition lacks legitimacy anymore.

Let me get more to the point of what is really burnin’ my biscuits here…

I’m a teacher of teenagers. I have been for a really, really long time. And, in that time, I have noticed a severe cultural change in the way young people see and understand the world around them.

It is my contention that we are living in an amazing time where young people are activists, and are interested in justice. That’s great. In my humble opinion, though, it can delegitimize serious struggle to assert that slight inconveniences or hardships are, in fact, traumas.

Let me give you an example. A student takes a test after a 10th grade unit on poetry. The teacher’s unit of study was aimed at showing students how to analyze poetry and respond to it, thoughtfully, in writing. So, the test itself required students to demonstrate that they could analyze a poem they’d never seen before, but that was on-grade-level. The student fails the test, then asks the teacher, “what can I do to get my grade up?” That has become SUCH a common question lately. I am not sure I hear it daily, but I definitely hear it at least a few times every week. Now, let’s say that the teacher asks the student what he thinks went wrong on the test. The student says, “I’m just not good at understanding poetry.”

HMMMMMM…

If you’re NOT a teacher, I’d ask you how you’d respond to this. Would you tell him to retake the test a second time? Give him some extra lessons or support to help him understand poetry better then offer a retest? Would you offer an alternative assignment? Would you tell him he should have studied better? Or does something else come to mind?

In this hypothetical situation, let’s say the teacher says the the student, “Okay. I’m willing to hear you out. What can you do to demonstrate you’ve mastered the learning?” The student’s reply is then something along the lines of “I don’t know. I just need to get an ‘A’.”

NOW what do you do?

See, here is the thing — the kid in this scenario is not interested in learning. He could sincerely not care less about that. I mean, that’s not surprising; he’s a kid. But, what I can infer from this situation is that this kid just wants to find away AROUND his problem. He’s not interested in actually solving the problem itself which, in this case is having a weakness in a skill in English class.

15 years ago this wouldn’t have been a question. The teacher would have been like, “sorry. Guess you should have studied, paid attention, taken notes, asked more questions, etc.” and that would have been the end of the discussion. But, today, that attitude is “toxic.”

I’d love to know, for those of you who are not teachers, how you think you’d handle this particular situation. I’d also love to know how you think you’d fare in the education industry if you were to change jobs. I can say that I have DEEP respect for nurses and others in healthcare, for example. I could NOT do what they do. I would be terrible at it and I think they should all get a serious pay raise. And snacks. And, like, just whatever they want. JUST GIVE THEM WHATEVER THEY WANT.

And, if you’re interested in getting ME whatever I want, I would like better working conditions for teachers and a bunch of Andes candies ‘cuz those are the best.

What am I supposed to do now?

Social media is an interesting beast.

On one social media site, I am a part of a “group” of folks who are now trying or have recently tried to leave the teaching profession. There are a TON of such groups all over the interwebs and mostly they are comprised of people who are exhausted, terrified, sad, and traumatized and they’re generally trying to support one another as they transition out of the only job they’ve ever wanted to have. Their stories are eye-opening and important and I’d like to give some more public voice to their plights here.

If you talk to teachers about what their biggest problems are in their schools all across America, very few have the same “talking points” as the media has presently. They don’t lament the lack of public school funding or the “learning loss” of kids post-pandemic. They don’t habitually complain about low pay, though they acknowledge that dealing with what they’re dealing with might be more reasonable if they were paid a fairer wage. They don’t gripe about being low-staffed. In fact, most are happy for their colleagues who “get out” of what they refer to as a toxic system. Their complaints, almost exclusively, revolve around poor leadership and a sense of entitlement from both students and parents within the system.

What follows in red is written ENTIRELY from the words of current and former teachers since COVID changed their lives. These are the words of educators in an online group of nearly 15,000 members from all over the world, but our focus here is on the US education system. These are their words. These are their stories. >insert Law & Order sound DUN-DUN here<

“I am at my breaking point.”
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I am at my breaking point. One of the biggest issues is that we are having kids with more and more issues and we are getting no help with that . We are seeing kids with serious psychiatric issues yet there are NO new classes, professionals, etc. to help with this even though it’s increasing every year. There is very little support from anyone in a position of authority whatsoever. Violence is not merely tolerated, but it is, at times, rewarded. In the name of “PBIS” (an edu-babble term that stands for “Positive Behavioral Intervention System), students actually get rewards like lollipops and stickers after they’ve struck a teacher or a fellow student. In an effort to teach them that those behaviors are wrong, they go to a “safe room” after a violent outburst, acknowledge that violence is “bad” and are thus given a treat for that grand revelation. It happens all the time. This is kindergarten through high school seniors, by the way.

I don’t feel I have support when it comes to inappropriate and disruptive or disrespectful behaviors. The kids are given all the power. Parents are the worst part of the equation. Coupled with administration that have no backbone and are terrified of parental lawsuits – the students are allowed to run the show! There is no support for teachers! None! Administrators refuse to treat teachers as professionals and are demeaning, insulting, and completely lacking in empathy or care for us as human beings; they are bullies who retaliate against us when we try to stand up for what’s right; they play favorites with their buddies on staff. There are so, so many reasons just from the admin angle that make me want to get out. That’s not even touching the surface of parent and student issues, workload issues, fair pay and retirement issues.

If I had a nickel for every time I got one of these from a kid…
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[Since the pandemic began], the biggest shift I’ve seen is the developing culture of disrespect and sense of entitlement. I’m tired of being yelled at, ignored, and undervalued [by administrators]. Schools do not discipline kids anymore. Behavior is out of control and we are supposed to teach the willing-to-learn kids while the others misbehave and disrupt learning for all. There was such a huge push for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline that the pendulum swung so far in the other direction that there is not just no more “policing” of student behavior, there is no attempt to address the behavior AT ALL. So, kids who were violent, disrespectful, abusive, or otherwise out of control five years ago did so and were suspended or expelled or dealt with. Kids do the exact same things today but are just sent back to class. Kids have literally physically assaulted teachers and classmates and they just…go back to class like nothing happened…because everyone is afraid we’ll be called out for “over-policing” kids. No matter what I do or say they carry on [because] there is no punishment. They are allowed to behave this way and we just have to take it.

[I want out because] teachers [are] being forced to retest failing students until they pass [which] seems like setting children up for real world failure. As a parent, I do not want my kids given multiple chances. We LEARN from failures. Not allowing someone to fail, in my opinion, is stunting that person’s growth and development as a human being. [There is a real] lack of support from colleagues, bullying from admins, and children passing regardless of their competency and ability to actually complete the work. A woman told me recently that her daughter just graduated from high school and only after that did she realize that her daughter couldn’t read. And, she went the whole way through the system – passing year in and year out.

I’m finishing the school year and never looking back. The combination of abysmally poor leadership and the fact that parents and kids run the schools these days has created a work environment that is inhospitable. This is a change that I’ve watched happen over the past 3-5 years. It started before the pandemic, but that trying time absolutely sped it up and exacerbated it. I can’t take it anymore.

As I compiled the words of the nearly 50 teachers who responded to my request for their thoughts, I was interested in seeing where the trends were in their responses. I found that a few concepts were repeated more than any others. The single most common word I saw was the word “bullying,” though. But, that term was not used in reference to how the kids interact with one another, but was in reference to how their bosses treat teachers.

If you don’t work in education, you might be surprised to hear about how the hierarchy works there and how, historically, teachers are not treated as professionals by their administrators, nearly all of whom were once teachers themselves. It operates in many places like a fraternity where the teachers are the freshman pledges and administrators are the seniors who haze them.

Of course, low pay (in some parts of the country, the starting salary for the 2021-2022 school year was under $20,000 a year), job insecurity (again, in some parts of the country, teachers are on year-to-year contracts where administrators can decide to renew — or not — at any time), standardized testing, and teacher shortages (I spoke to one teacher who had FOUR coworkers all quit last week from a single high school building) are all problems. But, as the saying goes, people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. So, the epidemic of this teacher exodus is largely related to just not getting what they need from their leaders. Teachers are not well-respected, not treated with compassion, and are not physically or emotionally safe in their workplaces. This is a nationwide epidemic, mind you. Current statistics say that nearly 60% of teachers in this country will leave the profession by the end of this June if they can.

Something has to give.
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What’s tragic about this is that every single one of these folks I spoke with is devastated by the idea of leaving. Not a single one of them got into teaching for any other reason than being called to it. The overwhelming concern for them all is: What do I do now? as they all evaluate their options. Most of them feel trapped, unqualified for any job other than teaching, and are terrified about what walking away from a lifetime dream and calling will mean for them. This is traumatic.

It’s an abusive relationship. These folks, mostly women, have loved their students, their subject areas, their coworkers. All they’ve ever wanted to do was share wisdom and guide young people and change the world. And the head of the household (so to speak) keeps berating them, gaslighting them, and generally treating them like absolute shit.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to fix any of this. I don’t know what to say or what to do or where to go. But, this is big, people. We have to start doing better by the people who care for our kids on the daily.

Before there aren’t any left.

Mid-Life: Cry, Sis

At what point is it reasonable to ask yourself whether you have, for certain, lived already longer than you will yet live?

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Heavy stuff.

I’m about to be 45. I’m in my last days of 44-ness, actually. So, I’ll have to live beyond 90 in order to be looking right now at having more life ahead of me than I have behind. Statistically, I’m not sure this is possible. So, that’s kind of a bummer.

Psychology Today argues that “midlife” is age 40-65, but I don’t see a whole lot of 130-year olds out there who agree. An economist at the National Bureau of Economic Research claims that the age of 47 is generally the unhappiest year of a person’s life, according to data collected among participants in over 130 countries. So, great…I have that to look forward to.

But, it appears that researchers and doctors and expert-types of all shapes and sizes have looked into this un-happiness “curve,” as they call it, where folks are at their highest lowness before finding happiness again as they take their long march toward death.

Apparently, though, if you’re in “midlife” like I apparently am, and you enjoy emotional self-torture, there is no scarcity of information on the World Wide Web to help you wallow in your despair. Luckily, there are a few people out there trying to help us see the “bright side,” though, so I will share some of that here in case you find that sort of thing interesting.

  1. A publication released in 1999 found that “people at midlife score higher on almost every measure of cognitive functioning than they did when they were 25.” Source
  2. Though Brett Arends at Market Watch wrote, “And here was me, thinking the midlife slump was the result of being Generation X, sandwiched between a bunch of boomers who won’t get off the stage and millennials who can’t wait to run us over,” it turns out that dissatisfaction with one’s life at our age coincides with events that just tend to happen at this age such as loss of a spouse or job. So, I mean, if you DON’T have a spouse die, then I guess you’ll be cool.
  3. A 2011 study conducted through Stanford University busted the myth that one’s youth is the “prime of life.” In fact, The Guardian reported on this a few years ago, asserting that “contrary to the popular view that youth is the best time in life, the present findings suggest that the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade.” Read more feel-good stuff from that article here.
  4. AARP, the authority on old people, published just in January of this year, an article that will let you know that what was always laughed at as the time in one’s life to divorce your wife and date your 25-year old secretary is not really like that at all. In fact, for most people, they claim, this is the point in life at which folks tend to reevaluate their lives and Get. Shit. Done.
  5. And finally if the bro-dom of GQ is your thing, you can check out this article on how midlife is a great time to get tattoos, smoke weed, and become awesome. All joking aside, the article nicely demonstrates how as we age, we become less concerned with pleasing others and more interested in being ourselves which is, indeed, pretty awesome.
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I’ll continue to surf the web in my attempt to embrace my aging-soul and become my “best self” or whatever Oprah shit I can find out there. But, the truth is that it is hard when you think about what is behind you. If you are one of those 50-year olds who started working out in midlife, what is behind you is maybe a really sweet ass, but for most of us, we just sort of think about how we used to be fun and now go to bed at 9:00.

But, I’ll try, ok? Maybe I should think about all of the cool people who were just STARTING their amazing journeys in “middle age”: Steve Carrell didn’t get his break on The Office until he was 43. Harrison Ford was a carpenter until he was 35 and was cast in Star Wars. Bryan Cranston didn’t hit is breakout role (Malcolm in the Middle) until he was 44. Lucille Ball was 40 when I Love Lucy started. Leslie Jones didn’t get into the SNL cast until she was 47. Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad until he was 38 and directed his first big film, Brokeback Mountain. In 1982, Martha Stewart published her breakout-book, Entertaining at age 41, subsequently launching her career in the business. And, finally, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Betty White. She was 51 years old when she first got the role that allowed her career to skyrocket: Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Anything that is good enough for Betty Freakin’ White is good enough for me.

Parenting During the Death of Public Education

I am going to put my ‘mom” hat back on today, but I still have my “teacher” glasses on for now.

My kids are in 5th and 8th grades. They’re pretty awesome kids. But, that’s not why you’re here.

I firmly and whole-heartedly have always supported public education. It is the way in which we build a society. It is the method by which we grow our citizens into thinking, problem-solving, collaborative adults.

That’s not to say that private schools don’t do this. But, public schools do it — for free — in your own neighborhood — while also providing a myriad of learning and support services — with fully certified teachers. As a mom, this is important to me.

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

But, there is a shift happening in public education and it will impact our children. You may not be aware of it because you are not as far down in this rabbit hole of information as I am, so let me get you up to speed on a few things going on right now in America that are changing the way our children get their learning.

First, let’s talk about some of the absolutely bonkers stuff that is going on at the government-level. The Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would require teachers to submit and publish a year’s worth of lesson plans on June 30 of the year prior. This is a nicely-written article about this issue if you’d like to learn more. But, here’s the thing: if you didn’t know anything about how the work of teaching happens, this might seem ok to you. What’s the big deal? Don’t you KNOW what you’re doing? Why don’t you want to make it public? What are you hiding, you peasant public servant?

But, it is pretty impossible to do this without a pre-packaged curriculum at your disposal. I mean, I don’t know next year’s kids on June 30. I haven’t met them yet. I don’t know what their needs will be. And, honestly, there are a bazillion other reasons why this is nuts. Do you know what project you’ll be working on and exactly what your day will look like…say November 14 of this year? Most people don’t. You can give an estimate, likely, but for you to fill out a detailed agenda for every day of the next year of your life might be kinda hard.

The simple answer to this is for a school to purchase a curriculum from a company like Pearson or Cengage Learning. This is a bit of a “hmmmm…” moment for me. If legislation makes it nearly impossible NOT to purchase a product, then I am forced to buy that product, thus I make some company more money. Whose best interest is being served here? As neither a mother nor a teacher do I believe the best interest being served is my kids’.

I might add that lesson plans are not fast or easy to write. I can spend hours on one lesson for one class period of one day. There is research involved, connection to standards, inclusion of multimedia, design of projects or assignments or quizzes associated, plans for enrichment for the high-achieving kids, plans for remediation for struggling kids, the material I’ll present, how I’ll present it, what my objectives are, what ultimate goal I’m aligning this all with…seriously — I don’t just sit down and go “ummm…Hamlet. I’ll just, like, talk about Hamlet things” and that’s all there is to it. And, when you think about Hamlet as an example, you might realize that I’d have to be an expert on it before I can even start writing that single day’s lesson which, ya know, might take a minute or two. Now, multiply all of this by the number of different classes I have in one day. That can be upward of 4 or 5 for some teachers. So, they’ll do all of that for 4 or 5 different classes, for every day, for 180 days. AND have it done before they leave for the summer on top of all of the stuff that needs to be done to close out a school year: paperwork, grades, reports, etc.

Similar bills are also in places like Arizona and North Carolina where the primary concern is that teachers might talk about issues relating to race, gender, and LGBTQIA+ folks. More on that in another post. So, the quick fix, again, is to BUY a curriculum from a company whose politics you like and just deliver the content as it is packaged. I ask again whose interest we’re serving here. Watch where your money is going, folks.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now, there are some great curricula out there and just because it comes from a major corporation doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Similarly, just because a teacher wrote it doesn’t make a lesson good. But, it does take away the need for an actual professional in the classroom. If all you need is a warm body to read from a text book, assign questions to answer, and just facilitate stuff that is in a script, you don’t really need ME. My 23 years in education, my Master’s Degree, my experience and knowledge, and understanding of students– well, none of that matters really. It’s always nice to have a seasoned veteran deliver packaged content, but it certainly isn’t necessary. It is just another brick in the wall. Your kids are just ground beef churned out by the system then.

Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone.
Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

The Washington Post reports that public school changes are alive and well across the nation and these changes are with the express purpose of privatizing education, something I thought was only a problem while that jackass lady who used to run the Department of Ed was in power. Remember her? She who shall not be named. As of this writing, there are sixteen states that are in the process of increasing their voucher programs or are fighting to otherwise shift allocation of public funding to private educational facilities. If you’re not up on all of this and aren’t sure why charters and “school choice” is actually not what you should want, you can check out this article to learn about the deliberate dismantling of public schools.

All-in-all, when we privatize education, we are putting it in the hands of FOR-PROFIT companies. Maybe this is capitalism at its finest and will increase competition which will increase results. But, here’s the reality: a private school does not HAVE to take your kid. It doesn’t have to teach your kid. It doesn’t have to keep your kid when he screws up. It doesn’t have to provide services for your kids’ special needs. It doesn’t have to DO much of anything except generally keep their numbers where they want them in order to keep the money where they want it. In some places, it doesn’t even have to hire certified teachers.

Maybe I’m crazy but I think that diversity is a good thing. I think that certified teachers are a good thing. I think that teaching critical thinking and challenging kids’ minds beyond what’s “in the book” is a good thing. I used to talk with my students about existentialism and literary critical theory. Now, we read mini-articles written two grade-levels lower than expected and regurgitate information on standardized tests. My current packaged curriculum (which is a basis for my teaching, basically informing the sequencing of units, but is not the majority of my teaching) includes ZERO novels. I’m a high school English teacher. Did you know that your child could go through four years of high school and never read a book? I won’t name the company whose curriculum includes no books at all for high school kids, but they’re one of the highest-earning, well-known educational companies on the planet and their stuff is in thousands of schools.

This is not what I want for my children. I want them to disagree with me. I want them to think. I want them to criticize and evaluate and read a damn book. Hell, THEY want to read books.

For what it’s worth, you might want to check out this article that is titled, “Are You Learning at School or Just Bullshitting Everything?” And, for fun, try Googling “why >insert curriculum company here< sucks.” It works for any of the companies. The results are terrifying and maddening and hilarious and depressing.

So, my fellow parents, if you have chosen private education for your children, cool. Whatever. That’s fine. But, please be aware that the public school system is still an important element of our nation’s functional growth. And, remember: if public school dies, all the riff-raff you’ve been trying to keep your kids away from will have to go somewhere and it might be your private school.

The Death of Disco…and Public Education

Look: you probably don’t know what is going on behind the scenes at your child’s school. You’d have no reason to. Schools only tell you what they want you to know.

But, things have changed… a LOT.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

They’ve changed since you were in school. Hell, they’ve changed in the past 3 years and those changes are significant.

I miss a version of my job that no longer exists. It’s kind of like really liking disco. At one point, I am sure somebody was like, “man, I really love disco” and then the 80s happened and there was…I don’t know…punk music and yuppies and cocaine? I’m not sure, I was like 3. But, anyway, disco died and that person was probably like, “but I LOVE disco!!! What am I supposed to do now?!?!”

That’s how I feel. In the early 80s there was a lot of other cool music to like. Blondie? I mean, yes, please. But, Blondie is not pure disco and if you really loved disco it just wasn’t the same. So, too, is the state of teaching. Schools still exist and they are kinda the same in that there are still kids and tests and detention and the cafeteria and lockers and stuff. But, it isn’t disco.

I follow all kinds of people and groups on social media. These folks are all also searching for some solace in all of this. They are teachers or soon-to-be-teachers or recently-retired/quit teachers and they share their thoughts online. Let me share with you a few things they’ve been saying lately.

“This is for all of the newer teachers out there: Leave while you still have professional confidence.”

ANONYMOUS

The more you see what your children’s teachers are feeling and experiencing, the more you might understand the sincere crisis in education there is at the moment. These are things you likely would not know at all if you were not in education and I am assuming you are not, but what the hell do I know?

“I sit here on a Sunday night and am deeply saddened. Tomorrow I have to go back to that place.”

ANONYMOUS

If you didn’t know what these folks were going through, I suspect your instinct would be to say, “well, leave then.” If teachers hate it so much and are so miserable and your “glorified babysitting job” of “only 10 months a year” is so shitty, you should just quit, right?

Well, they ARE. In enormous numbers, in fact. I just took a look at a document published by the US Department of Education. They cite the MetLife Survey of American Teachers as they report, “Teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009…the lowest level in over 20 years.”

From the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, report date: February 2013

A publication from the Brookings Institute reported in September 2021 that “In March 2021, 42% of teachers declared they have considered leaving or retiring from their current position during the last year.” That’s a huge number of people. If you’re not a teacher, do you have a 42% turnover rate…ever?

My guess is that, well, no, you do not. According to EdWeek, this past fall saw about 3.2 million teachers actively working in the profession. I just used that calculator that I keep in my pocket that my middle school math teacher said I’d never have and that little machine told me that 42% of 3.2 million is 1.3 million…give or take. That’s huge.

Add to all of this the fact that colleges and universities are seeing enormous decline in enrollment in teaching majors and several are closing their doors. On February 5, 2022, CNN ran a story which noted that Oklahoma City University was suspending its education program. The article goes on to report: “While some say it’s too early to know the specific impacts of the pandemic, Lynn Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) told CNN the numbers already show Covid-19 further dissuaded Americans from going into teaching. In fall 2020 and 2021, about 20% of institutions surveyed by AACTE reported the pandemic resulted in a decline of new undergraduate enrollment of at least 11%. Roughly 13% of institutions reported ‘significant’ declines in the number of new graduate students.”

With fewer teachers coming into the field, I realize that the system has got to change. As I look over my social media accounts, what I’m noticing, anecdotally, is that a large number of teachers who are leaving the profession are doing so with absolutely no backup plan whatsoever. That might seem stupid. Most of them know it is kind of bananas, but this is how bad it is for them. Here are a few reasons I’ve seen cited in just the past few days:

  1. Students are chronically absent and expect teachers to “catch them up” – sometimes from a zero percent or having submitted zero work or learning literally 0% of the material AND ADMINISTRATORS ARE ALSO EXPECTING TEACHERS TO FIND A WAY TO “ALLOW THESE STUDENTS TO HAVE SUCCESS.” (i.e.: pass even if it is a lie)
  2. Student behavior is out of control: fights, disrespectful talk, refusal to follow any rules.
  3. Remember school shootings? Those are still a threat. So, everything sucks and we might get shot, so…
  4. Unsupportive bosses who don’t care when teachers are drowning and only care about their nonsensical initiatives and statistics.
  5. The increasing threat of privatization of public schools (more on that in our next post)
  6. Overbearing parents, many of whom were praising teachers just two years ago when they had to deal with their ONE child at home but who now find teachers, yet again, to be useless wastes of space and, delightfully tell teachers: “I pay your salary.”
  7. A salary that qualifies teachers as “working poor.”

“I talked to a gentleman with no college degree today who makes more in two weeks than I made in one month with 20+ plus years experience AND a master’s degree.”

ANONYMOUS
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I do not propose any solutions here. If I had any to offer, I’d be at work right now implementing them instead of typing this. But, I do know that something has to give.

The number of teachers we’re hemorrhaging as a system is not sustainable.

I guess the one thing I can suggest is: please be kind to your children’s teachers. There is so much they’re going through that you don’t even know about.

It’s actually really a scary time in education.

Aside from the obvious woes and the ones listed above, teachers are also facing incredible political pressures and shifts. Depending on the area and the district, teachers are also battling mask mandates (either for them or against them, depending on where you are), whether or not to teach about racism, class sizes of 30-35 students, an overall poverty rate for kids in American schools to be at 25%, unreliable technology to do their jobs, poor student attitudes toward learning and no help with that from their parents, budget cuts, an obesity epidemic among American kids, and much, much more.

So, again, if you can consider sending a nice note to one of your children’s teachers today to say that you know things are hard and you support him/her/them, it would really be appreciated. Trust me: there is not a single teacher in the nation right now who would not welcome such a message.

Please. We miss our disco.

The False Equivalence

In 2020, I missed being in my classroom as an On Duty Teacher and decided to create a series of lessons for anyone who felt like learning them.

Our series on How To Be a Better Arguer continues…

Lesson #10

The False Equivalence: what are we to do when someone suggests that two things, people, or ideas are the same while ignoring their differences?

I hate this one. People use it ALL THE TIME. And those people suck.

Consider this:

Person “A”: “I think it’s morally wrong to unleash a secret police force on peaceful protestors and it’s a classic indicator of Fascism in the making.”

Person “B”: “what? We should allow a bunch of thugs and rioters to lock people in public buildings and set them on fire? Lock ‘em all up. They deserve what they get.”

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Insert eye roll here.

The logical fallacy here (and, remember, a logical fallacy is an ERROR. It’s a sign of weak arguments. It’s invalid.) is in the suggestion that the actions of armed military forces deployed by the US government are EQUIVALENT to citizen protestors.

Frankly, there’s an Ad Hominem attack in there, too. Did you catch it in Person B’s statement?

Anywho…

To have a valid argument, Person B, you’ll have to either use two equivalent entities in your message or prove (remember your data and warrant) that the two entities you use in your statement are actually already equivalent.

Now, for two entities to be equivalent, they have to have more characteristics in common than not. And the similarities you suggest have to bear equivalent weight, severity, or importance. For example, people call both Joe Biden and Donald Trump “sexual assaulters.” But, are the allegations, instances, and types of assault truly comparable? For you to make the argument that they’re both terrible choices for President because they’re both rapey, you’ll have to show that they are. (Please note: this article was originally written in the summer of 2020)

So, in our previous example, armed secret military police physically injuring unarmed protestors MUST be equally wrong, frequent, severe, deplorable, harmful, and “bad for America” as are the actions of people exercising First Amendment rights and speaking out (ironically) against police brutality.

Frankly, in the initial example, Person B focuses on one PART of a revolutionary movement: rioting and destruction. In fact, Person B referenced one specific day within one specific part of that revolutionary movement: the fires set at a police headquarters following George Floyd’s death. So, the qualifications for equivalency aren’t met: Person B’s example is not similar in duration, in number, in degree, or in value. So, this doesn’t work.

When an internet troll comes at you with “men get sexually assaulted, too!,” or “Auschwitz’s existence is proof that Confederate statues must remain intact,” you’ve got a False Equivalencer (probably not a word) on your hands.

To combat it, you point out how their argument does not apply an appropriate analogy, or how their statements do not represent equivalent subsets of information.

Good lord. “Subsets?” “Equivalent?” “Degree?” “Data?” My 11th grade Trig teacher was right: math concepts are used in other fields.

Damn.

At any rate, if you’re interested in learning more about this from people smarter than I am, check this out: https://effectiviology.com/false-equivalence/. They do a super nice job of explaining this in much more academic and think-y words.

Until next time, friends, I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Try not to suck, ok?

In our ongoing series of How to Be a Better Arguer, I bring you Lesson #8

If you’re new to these lessons, scroll down. Start with the first one and then work your way back here. These lessons were originally posted on social media in 2020, but they were beloved — BELOVED, I TELL YOU! — and so they’re being reprinted here for your viewing pleasure…

Ok. Here we go…

Photo by Keira Burton on Pexels.com

Don’t be the bad guy.

This is probably the best advice I have when it comes to arguments. It works in a myriad of scenarios and is applicable to numerous parts of your life.

I’m a teacher. I’ve worked exclusively in large high schools for over 20 years and thus have seen my fair share (or more) of hallway fights.

One stands out for me when I think about “bad guys,” though.

It was the time between classes. The bell had just rung and I was standing at my desk chatting with a student. He or she (I don’t remember) was an Advanced Placement student and thus known around town more for brains than for brawn, as were the AP students who’d be coming to my room for the next class period.

Suddenly, two students burst into my classroom, entangled in one another. They hit the floor.

My desk was in the corner farthest from the door and it took me a few moments to hurdle myself over to it. By that point, the fight had slid its way from just inside my classroom doorway to just outside of it. A crowd formed, surrounding the fight and trapping me inside the room. This high school was huge so there were tons of kids to create this barrier so no other adults could easily get in. I was the only adult there, as a result.

I remember throwing a few kids aside to get them out of the way. Later my students would joke with me about hurling people like some sort of monster. I took it as a compliment. But, I was pretty powerless against the two boys I didn’t know who were on the ground trying to injure each other as much as possible.

A student of mine stepped into the crowd, grabbed the kid who was on top of the other kid and catapulted him in the opposite direction ending the bout, then, more or less, walked into my room like, “there ya go, lady, now let’s go learn some shit.”

Not all the AP kids were ALL brains and NO brawn.

But, to get to my point I actually need to tell you about the parent meeting that followed this incident.

I don’t remember everything, but I do remember sitting in a conference room with an administrator and the boy (and the father of the boy) who appeared to be the aggressor. I had never seen this kid before that day; not until he busted into my classroom, so my answer was clearly “no” when the father asked me if I had heard what the other boy had said to his son right BEFORE he stared wailing on him as the other kid curled into the fetal position, trying to protect his face (it didn’t work).

So, some boy said something mean. Alrighty. THAT boy would have been in trouble, then, particularly if it was so evil it might induce a brawl. But, the second kid became the bad guy when he knocked the snot out of Mr. Mouthy. He HAD THE UPPER HAND and just gave it away. What I witnessed that day was not a fight, but was a beating.

And, there IS a difference. If you’ve ever worked in an American high school, you might know what I mean.

If you do things the right way: ask questions, laugh in the face of the bully, use your words, stay true to yourself, take the high road, keep it classy, take pride in yourself—you win. And, you win because you showed BETTER.

If you try to argue with me about geopolitics and I retort with an ad hominem attack, I suck. I may be funny and I may feel good about sucker-punching you with words, but I’ve also shown that I’m an idiot.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Have you, like, EVER seen an 80’s movie? We root for Daniel-san, Duckie, Veronica Sawyer (sort of?), and Marty McFly. We loathe Cobra Kai, Steff (and pretty much every James Spader character ever—not just Pretty in Pink’s villain), all of The Heathers, and Biff.

Do you trust Draco Malfoy? Want to listen to advice from the kids in Carrie’s class (or her mom, jeez…)? Feel like going to see Aerosmith in ‘76 with O’Bannion? Want to have tea and crumpets and discuss closet options with Joan Crawford?

If you allow yourself to slip into attacking language, condescension, snark and sarcasm (oooh, but I do love sarcasm and admit I too often don’t take my own advice here), Red Herrings, straw man arguments, and fighting language rather than the language of discourse, you become the bully. You’re the one delivering a beating; you’re Bloody Mary, you’re Genghis Khan, you’re DOLORES UMBRIDGE.

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Beating someone into argumentative submission might, on the surface, feel like winning. But, the “winners” of arguments have persuaded others to change their minds. They’re solving problems. They’re championing causes. They’re breaking down the walls that divide man. When you do this, you’re Atticus Finch! You’re Hermione Granger! Padme Amidala! Belle (oooh! A princess…)! Elle Woods! You’re (man, I want to write “Jesus,” but that feels like stepping into complicated territory…).

This really makes me want a Hermione Lego Minifigure…
Photo by Nemes Brigitta on Unsplash

When you see injustice, bullying, misunderstanding, confusion, questions, disagreement, division, hurt, pain, arrogance, and differing perspectives, think about what will get someone on your side rather than push him away. Think about who can see or hear your discussion and consider whether those folks would be turned off by your words or behavior, heading to the opposite side just because of YOU, or if you might encourage people to come TO your side, even if they’re unsure if it, just because you’re someone with whom they’d like to be associated.

This is ETHOS. An appeal to ethos is an appeal to the audience because of your CHARACTER. If you can convince people that you’re worth listening to, your message might carry.

Feel free to let me know what you think. And maybe reread “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Lesson #7: A Non-Sequi-whaaaa???

NOTE: Post first written for publication in 2020

Photo by Natalie Birdy on Pexels.com

“BUT…HER E-MAILS!”

Let’s take a look at the NON-SEQUITUR.

I’ve seen this a whole lot lately: someone makes a statement in a post. These days, it’s probably about a political or social issue (or both). Someone responds with a completely different topic, typically something not at all in question.

Here’s an example: I saw on Facebook where a friend of mine posted something about the current US President having a pattern of lying (Note: at time of original publication, this referred to President Donald Trump). One response to this statement was, “Oh, so I guess Biden never lies?!”

That’s a non-sequitur. It’s a statement that does not logically follow the argument in question. Logicians would have a field day with the respondent to that post. Yikes.

See, here’s the thing: a post about one person’s lies is not necessarily an argument that another person does or does not not lie. Its not about another person at all. I might add, too, that pointing out one candidate’s flaws does not necessarily equate to an endorsement of his opponent. AND, stating that Joe Biden lies neither refutes nor proves anything about whether Donald Trump does. They’re two different arguments.

Boil it down to its simplest terms:

Person A: “Trump lies”

Person B: “Biden lies”

Person A: “Sooo…is this a statement of agreement or disagreement to what I said?”

Person B: “Neither.”

You might remember a similar fallacy from an earlier lesson: the Red Herring. The non-sequitur is similar, but the difference is in the motive.

Like the stinky fish for which it is supposedly named, the Red Herring is something a person “throws out there,” purposefully, with the intent of distracting you or putting you off of your track. It’s a diversion; a ploy.

The non-sequitur is flawed thinking. It’s a show of ignorance on a topic, inability to process intellectual discussion, fear, single-mindedness, or an honest mistake. But, it’s not malicious or conniving. Get pissed at the guy who hurls Red Herrings, but feel bad for the bloke who offers a non-sequitur.

Often, you’ll see non-sequiturs used, but it will be clear that those who use them don’t really understand what the conversation is about in the first place. Responding, “Oh, Biden doesn’t lie?” to the statement, “Trump is a liar,” assumes that the original speaker’s argument is: “Trump is a liar and is therefore the man less qualified to be president in a race between Joe Biden and him.” But, “Trump is a liar” does NOT, in and of itself, assert that at all.

So, here’s what you need to do.

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

This is your response: “What do you mean by that?”

If I say, “Trump lies,” and you say, “Biden lies,” we’re just two people listing names of people who lie. The problem is that you (in this case) think we’re having a political debate whereas I just made a statement. So we need to establish:

1. Is this an argument or debate we are in? Person A didn’t appear to be making one, necessarily, but Person B surely wanted to duke it out.

2. What is your argument? Does Person B even know? What does he think we’re talking about, even?

3. What is my argument? Person B definitely messes this up.

4. Do you understand that your statement is not a logical response to mine? No. No. No, he doesn’t.

It would have been best if Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” had asked Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” What he meant by that. There’s lots he could have meant by that…

-Trump’s ability to fabricate people, events, and cures for global pandemics with household products is impressive.

-All politicians are immoral and the record of Trump’s lies is but one example.

-The rate at which our current president lies indicates that he is an inappropriate choice to lead the Free World.

Etc., etc.

Had Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” asked, if he’s Right-leaning, he can respond with something that makes sense.

If Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Follows up with “what do you mean by that?” to the creator of the non-sequitur, he could let him know that Mr. Biden’s record of truth and lies is a different argument altogether. And, “hey, if you want, we can talk about that — in another thread…” might be the follow-up to that.

Photo by Simone Secci on Unsplash

“What do you mean by that?” (Patent pending) is also useful as a response to

-racist/sexist/demeaning/offensive/classless “jokes”

-Ad Hominem attacks

-condescending comments

-a Red Herring (if you can catch it)

-someone clearly uninformed or misinformed on a topic

I wish I remembered to use “What do you mean by that?” more often. I’ll smile if I see you use it in the future. 💛

I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Argue Better: Lesson #6

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So, like, what does it mean to be “right” about something?

We’ve been taking a look at formal arguments, how to avoid flawed reasoning, and how to respond to illogical remarks. But, LOGIC isn’t the only means by which something can be right or wrong. People can argue about morality, religion, politics, ethics, and other concepts where “right” and “wrong” might depend on how you look at things, where you’re from, or any one of a bazillion factors.

It is possible for both opposing parties in an argument, or even multiple parties in an argument, to be “right,” if we’re willing to accept that the word “right” doesn’t always have a clear and singular definition.

Photo by Arturo Rey on Unsplash

Think about this question: If Jesus went to the US polls in November of 2016, which candidate would He have voted for in the Presidential race?

Trick question. There isn’t a right answer to this. At least there isn’t in the technical sense. So, here is where we get back to that idea that nobody cares about your opinion. You can like or dislike a candidate, you can have personal feelings about politics in general. You can call the Bible the ultimate guide to life, or refer to it all as Christian Mythology. But, that hypothetical question about who gets Jesus’ vote? All you can do there is assess WHY your answer might be what it is.

Part of the problem with healthy debate comes from two opposing sides who try to prove that the other is wrong. But, “wrong” is subjective and neither side is willing to dig into WHY it takes the stance it does. And this is where discourse devolves into a fight.

Instead, you really have to take your personal beliefs out of the equation. When you don’t, you end up with an even worse relationship with your discussion partner than when you started. If I used my belief that cats are all demonic furmonsters, but you loooove cats with all of their fuzzy snuggliness, for example, we might as well just not talk. My “opinion” is irrelevant. And we’ll get nowhere.

And, I might add, that my personal experiences are also irrelevant. I might have had nothing but bad experiences with scratchy, hissy, allergy-inducing cat devils, but my experience is proof of nothing. I can talk about it, but what would it prove? Could I get you to care or change your mind? Would any amount of my sneezing convince you to kick out Mr. Flooferton and go get a goldfish?

This is one reason why climate change, racism, the #MeToo movement, healthcare, college tuition, and so many hot-button social and political issues are so disputed. People have vastly different personal experiences and far too many of those people are using those experiences as proof or justification for their arguments. But, climate change can be a thing whether or not you’re personally hot or cold right now. Racism can exist even if you have “a Black friend” or you have not personally witnessed, experienced or perpetrated it.

Photo by Gary Barnes on Pexels.com

So, our arguments with one another have to stop being about trying to convince someone of what is RIGHT. That will never mean the same thing to everyone. You can’t convince someone that your version of right-ness is best. Instead, these conversations should be centered around how to solve problems, how to work together instead of against one another, and how to leave this planet better than how we found it. Often, arguments, unlike fights, are about listening as much as they are about contributing.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

—-“It isn’t right for people to loot and destroy businesses in their own community.”

—-“But, it isn’t right for the community to stay silent as it’s citizens needlessly die.”

—-“But it isn’t right to violently riot and fight with police because they risk their lives on the job to protect us.”

—-“But it isn’t right for someone to be killed by a police officer due to direct force, especially when he’s been subdued and the potential threat against that officer is no longer existent.”

->None of those above people will ever persuade any of the others if they stick with this “right” line of debate.

Instead the conversation should shift to (and YOU can be the one to shift it!!!):

“What would it look like to have a truly safe community where everyone would live without fear of dying OR being looted?”

“What steps should be taken so that police officers can be more prepared for high-pressure situations without bringing harm to other human beings?”

“How can we utilize the system as it is to leverage better results for crimes both real and alleged?”

“How can we make our neighborhood one where law enforcement has positive interactions with the citizens and the citizens are respectful of the officers’ service to them?”

“Without pointing fingers or assigning blame for past problems, how can all have more peace?”

That’s just a start…

Thanks, y’all. Hope you’ve enjoyed my Masterclass. 😉

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Lesson #5

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We want the same things.

Fundamentally, there are some basic things we all agree on (ya know, for the most part). Like, I think we all agree that breathing is nice. And the world can be a better place. No matter your disagreement, there’s always common ground you can find.

In this lesson, I’m going to assume you’re in an argument in its academic sense.

Generally, that’s the perspective for all of the lessons: showing you how to use the power of persuasion. If you’re just shootin’ the breeze about who the best 80s hair metal band is or why cats are better than dogs (they are not, I beg your pardon and thank you very much), seek advice elsewhere.

I’m talking about how to discuss reproductive rights with THAT aunt of yours at Thanksgiving, or how to be taken seriously in a conference room where you’re trying to convince your coworkers that your idea for that new account is the best idea, or how to help someone who has an “opinion” on Black Lives Matter see the error of their ways.

You start with common ground. What is accepted by both sides?

Aristotle is considered the the granddaddy of Rhetoric. His favorite type of spoken rhetoric was called “Deliberative” rhetoric (sometimes called “Deliberative Oratory” when used in speeches).

Deliberative rhetoric focuses on the future. So, you use future-tense verbs as much as you can.

If you dwelled on the past or focused mostly on what has been, the focus is usually to find blame. When we look at an issue, let’s say…institutional racism, we might be inclined to argue about the past. But, statements or claims like “MY family never owned slaves” or “What about all of that black-on-black crime that keeps happening?!?!?!” don’t do anything but antagonize.

When you speak in the present tense, you’re complaining or praising. Examples of this might include that “Many Secret Service Agents [are] just waiting for action” when daring protestors to get nearer to you. Or, another example might be saying, “Laziness is a trait in Blacks” (yep. You read that right. But to be fair, if you did, indeed, say that and a disgruntled and only semi-credible former employee published it in a tell-all book, it would be an example of Demonstrative rhetoric).

Present tense speaking is great for a commencement address or a commendation. But, the biggest problem with it, Aristotle found, was that Demonstrative rhetoric was divisive. It puts people in categories. Consider the difference between the statements “You are an American” versus “You were an American.” Present tense debate is values based: who are you, what do you stand for, how do you identify right here and now?

Future tense verbs used in a discussion make the conversation about problem-solving.

PAST TENSE: Judicial rhetoric (sometimes also called Forensic rhetoric: it’s the language of lawyers and detectives)

—What happened?

—Who did this?

—Who is to blame or praise for what’s been done?

PRESENT TENSE: Demonstrative rhetoric (sometimes also called Epideictic rhetoric: it’s the language of award presenters, pastors, motivational speakers, and supremacists)

—Who are we?

—What makes you one of us?

—What are our ideals?

—What good or bad qualities to you/we have?

FUTURE TENSE: Deliberative rhetoric: it’s the language of peacemakers, policy writers, problem solvers, leaders, and decision makers

—What can we do about this?

—How should we solve our problems?

—Where are we heading?

You can control the direction of your argument by shifting the verb tense. Consider this:

Person A: “Life starts at conception (present tense). Women who’ve had abortions are evil.” (there’s a little past and a little present tense there)

Person B: “I have rights guaranteed as a result of Roe v. Wade. (a little past and present tense)

Person C: We all can agree, though, that we like personal liberties and we’d like to see better healthcare and fewer lives lost in general in the future, right?”

***FUTURE TENSE

Person C shifted the argument to be about something other than when life begins or whether women’s bodies are appropriate to legislate. Person C is finding a platform where BOTH sides can look at how to work toward a shared vision. Maybe both sides can agree to advocate for better sex education, more access to contraceptives, better support systems for young and poor and scared pregnant girls, extensions to Head Start programs, stricter laws on men who abandon their families, or longer and harsher sentences for rapists who attack women behind dumpsters and serve only a few months’ sentence because they’re good swimmers who are blond white boys.

So, there’s my advice. When you go to visit Grandma Helga this summer and you just know she’s going to be all “destroying property and rioting is for hoodlums and thugs,” you can retort with something like, “well, Grandma, sure. Neither of us wants people to lose their livelihoods, so what should be done to make sure what triggered these riots, Black men too often dying in police custody, doesn’t keep happening? If we can think of solutions to end police brutality, we’d also stop those riots and demonstrations.”

I’m honored you’ve attended my Masterclass. 😄

#thanksforcimingtomytedtalk

Be A Better Arguer: Lesson #3

“I read somewhere…”

“Studies show…”

“I’ve heard from reputable sources…”

“They say that…”

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Ahhh… the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority.”

This is a logical fallacy (definition: a flaw in the structure or line of reasoning in an argument that renders it invalid). It’s probably the one I see most commonly on social media…where all the “experts” (wink*wink) are.

People on the internet always have opinions, don’t they? But, see, most people are using that word wrong. An opinion, in its truest sense, is an idea based on an appraisal of available circumstances or data. I mean, anyone can have an opinion in the sense that they can have likes, dislikes, faith, beliefs, or interests. But if you want to be in an ARGUMENT, an “opinion” is different and you just gotta have some sources, proof, evidence…ya know…stuff that isn’t just randomness from your own head.

Here’s what to do when faced with someone whose argument is invalid because of the use of the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority” fallacy:

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

1. You fight facts with facts. You fight “opinions” with…facts.

To have a quality, reasonable, logical argument, you need to have evidence or data to support your claim(s). Data/evidence can exist in several forms including, but not limited to:

—numbers,charts, graphs, and figures from recognized experts in the field most relevant to the issue at hand

—conclusions, studies, and opinions (in the true sense of the word) from experts in the field (even better is when you can find the same conclusions drawn by multiple experts).

—quotes from reputable news organizations and written by reputable writers (click on the name of a journalist on any article – you’ll be taken to their credentials. If there’s no writer listed, run away. If there are no credentials listed, run away.)

—scientific studies that are peer-reviewed

2. Comment reasonably and intelligently on your data.

Don’t merely provide a list of facts. Explain simply and clearly HOW those facts support your claim. This is actually tougher than it sounds. I consider myself lucky if I can get 75% of my students (who avidly study and practice this) to write good commentary. But, really, if you don’t connect the dots, clarifying what you suggest the data you’ve presented shows about the claim you’ve made, you’re just listing facts. Lists don’t persuade. They bore.

3. Evaluate the potential holes in or objections to your argument. How would a good arguer respond to my words?

If you can think objectively about defense, you can build a stronger offense. This, in turn, can shorten the duration of the argument as a whole and can make it clear that you just may be the only one who came truly ready to play. However, upon presenting a well-researched, supported point of view that’s pretty failsafe, you might be met with an attack on your intelligence, looks, age, etc. That’s another logical fallacy: the ad hominem attack that I covered in an earlier post. Sometimes people just feel the need to have the last word and, “bite me, donkey face” can feel better to them than letting your claims rest without retort.

So, come to an argument armed with facts, science, expert opinions, news sources, and support. And, most importantly, stay calm, stay on-topic, and keep it classy.

You’ve become so much smarter already from my Masterclass, haven’t you? 🤪

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next time: “No, Becky, ‘The Onion’ is not a Reputable News Source,” or, “How to Bring Good Data to the Argument”

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I Taught During a Pandemic and Then I Ranted About Shit on the Internet

If you’re joining our program already in progress, let me catch you up…

“Off Duty Mom” refers to being a mom who is tired all the time and thus needing to go “off duty” every now and again. It also makes a reference to what I do when I am “on duty” in the sense that I am getting paid to put up with children. I’m a teacher. I taught during the pandemic. I didn’t love it.

When the pandemic forced us out of schools in 2020, I started blowin’ people’s minds on the interwebs via my personal Facebook account. I started handing out free lessons about how to better argue with people since I wasn’t able to teach that content in school, ‘cuz, like, there kinda wasn’t really school at the time.

This is the second lesson in a series I published starting in May of 2020. It is republished here for your viewing and learning pleasure…

Enjoy.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Lesson #2

The ad hominem attack

The phrase “ad hominem” translates to “to the man.” When someone attacks you personally, rather than addressing your position, that’s an ad hominem attack. Weak arguers use this logical fallacy mostly because they:

#1 hope to hurt or anger you, or

#2 can’t sufficiently argue against your points.

If you’ve been called “snowflake,” “boomer,” “sheep/sheeple,” etc., your opponent has shown his cards: he’s got nothin’.

These attacks can get even more personal depending on age, race, sexuality, gender, religion, and so on.

Yesterday, in response to a dumb joke I made on a friend’s Facebook page, I was called “sweetheart.” Sometimes terms like these (honey, sweetie, etc) are flung at women perhaps- and I don’t really know for sure- because if we can infantilize a woman, she’ll be put “back in her place.” The issues will be left to the big boys. Silly girls thinking they can say words. Haha.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

Another example might be tweeting about a group of people calling them “THUGS.” This word is racially-charged. Culturally, this term has come to mean “Black men who…cause trouble…mostly by wearing hoodies and…looking SUSPICIOUS.” Other racially-charged words (aside from the obvious) might include “homie,” “brother,” and even “boy” which again, historically was/is used to keep someone “in his place.” A “boy” is not a MAN, after all, and “man,” in a weak debate, is the highest life form (according to those who resort to these kinds of tactics).

Slurs, name-calling, and other personal attacks are attempts to suggest that you are weaker, less-than, or too stupid, too uneducated, too uninformed, or too ignorant to be worthy of speaking to the person slinging the insults.

A word doesn’t have to be a slur to be a demeaning ad hominem attack, either. Consider name-calling and “jokes” meant to poke “fun” at stereotypes: Asian drivers, Rural “hillbillies,” etc., as examples. Unless you’re arguing about whether or not Asian people are good drivers (and don’t argue that, come on), bringing a cultural stereotype into the mix is irrelevant and useless.

Look — this guy is smiling. I’m going to call him “Sam.” Sam looks like he’s enjoying being on the internet. Sam is probably being very nice to people online. You should be like Sam.
Photo by Good Faces on Unsplash

What to do about it?

1. Do NOT play their game. If you’ve been attacked personally, rather than your opponent pointing out flaws in your argument, don’t respond in-kind. He’s dragged you down to his level and then you’re fighting instead of arguing if you do. Don’t just make an insult-fest.

2. Know that if someone has gone this direction, they’re either out of things to say that are valid or are more concerned with hurting your feeling than with having a dialogue. It may be best to walk away. This might prompt more name-calling, but remember how Marty McFly’s responses to being called “chicken” didn’t turn out well. Learn from Marty’s mistakes.

3. Realize that bullying and being a general meatball aren’t, you know, GOOD things. So, resist the urge to escalate the situation. Do not threaten to go to the guy’s house and punch him in the throat. This makes you MORE wrong now. Once you become the bad guy, that’s pretty hard to reverse. And, now you’ve lost credibility. Either go back to your point, calmly, or end the interaction.

In the end, pity the man* who has nothing to offer to the world or to your discussion other than insults. And rest comfortably in the knowledge that you’re better than that.

Thanks for your attention to my Masterclass. 😋

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next topic: when your opponent has no sources, just “opinions”…

*”man” used generically in reference to mankind. Don’t come at me with your “you’re a reverse sexist” bulldoodoo.

Bleeding Out

When I decided to go by “Off Duty Mom,” it was through inspiration from my own mom who, in the evenings of my childhood, would sometimes pick up a book and lie in bed in an attempt to have just a bit of time to herself, declaring that she was “off duty.” As an adult, once I had children of my own, I realized the importance for moms to go “off duty” every now and then.

When not on duty as a mom, I’ve spent a few decades as a high school English teacher. There were days when I didn’t know which job — mom or teacher — was more rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, illuminating, and/or indicative of my very identity. Both jobs have had their ups and downs.

You may have heard through sources such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Washington Post, and, you know, everyone you personally know in education right now, that teachers are quitting in astronomical numbers. And, they’re not just quitting their jobs, but they’re quitting the entire profession and giving up on years of training, years of dreaming, and years of just KNOWING that being an educator was their “calling.” Something is happening and it is bad, people.

I first realized that my own mental health was in decline just before the pandemic forced me out of my classroom. I remember a conversation I had with an assistant principal where she and I talked off-the-record about morale being low in our building. This is something that can just “happen” from time to time, though, so at this point, the very fact that she just sort of listened to me, heard my concerns about general dissatisfaction, and tried to be supportive was enough for me. But then a dear friend and colleague of mine quit — perhaps not suddenly, but it did unfold fairly quickly — and on that very last day of his, my administrators came over our PA system to let us know that we ought to take our work home with us over the weekend of March 14, 2020 since schools would be closed come Monday.

As schools closed that spring, many districts across the country took vastly different approaches to how they’d handle serving their communities. “Fairness” was an issue of particular concern for a whole lot of schools all over, especially when it came to taking care of the needs of Special Education students. Some schools realized that Zoom-learning wouldn’t really allow for Individualized Education Programs to be met fully which can violate federal law, so that was pretty bad. In order to have “equity” or “fairness” for all students, some schools chose to push through and go all “CDC-be-damned” and stuff to stay open despite, like, several million people dying. Others decided to educate NOBODY because that, too, was “fair” in that everyone was being equally shafted.

During the multiple months that followed, this “fairness” and “equity” remained pretty buzzy. It isn’t for no reason, either. Teachers had a glimpse into students’ home lives and realized that tons of stuff we never even realized was happening behind those closed doors was causing barriers to student learning. Some kids showed up to classes online with their younger siblings on their laps, being primary caregivers AND full time students at once. Some teachers saw a variety of conditions of homes, relationships, boundaries (or lack thereof), supplies, wi-fi reliability, noise levels, and all kinds of trauma-in-the-making. Some kids went fully MIA for the entirety of the time of remote learning. One parent came to an online meeting regarding her son’s pending failure of a course that was a graduation requirement for him while she was actively moving a table from one room of her house to another — huffing and puffing and screaming at her family members while (sort of) talking with me about whether her child was going to get a diploma or not.

The truth was that kids were dealing with all kinds of shit and teachers had a front-row seat. Of course, teachers themselves also had more than they’d signed up for on their own plates. We had to reinvent our entire profession from scratch, learn technology new to most of us, and figure out how to do the non-academic parts of our job with pretty much no help from anyone. Who could even help if they wanted to, anyway?

Things were NOT “equitable” for kids. They had all kinds of levels of support, love, affection, kindness, peace, responsibility, expectation, money, and ability. We always knew this, but it was another thing to witness it.

What happened was that expectations for school systems rose and accountability for students fell. The general consensus was that kids’ differences in preparedness for school wasn’t their “fault” (and it, indeed was not), so we, as a system, had to level the playing field for them. Makes sense on paper. But, of course, the root issues causing these unfair circumstances weren’t going to change for the better and we weren’t attempting to (or able to) fix any of that, anyway. The only thing we could do was “do better” for kids.

I do NOT disagree that “doing better for kids” is both warranted and vital. But, it certainly is stressful.

Art installation titled “Can’t Help Myself” by Chinese artists, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu

Have you ever seen that art installation of the dying robot? Well, there was this robot that constantly leaked hydraulic fluid and was programmed to sweep it up to return to its own system. At first, as the story goes, the fluid leaked at a rate that was manageable for it to contain and return to itself. Over time, though, the moments of “rest” for the robot became fewer and farther between and it was eventually in a situation where it did nothing but clean up this leak literally at all times. The leak was never fixed. It just kept cleaning up, over and over, never able to stop the root cause but instead just in a perpetual cycle of futile efforts to save its own life.

That robot “died” after the spills and loss of fluid became greater than its physical ability to clean up the mess and carry on. I had heard later that the irony of it all was that it wasn’t even a hydraulically-powered machine. Though it was programmed to “believe” that it had to perform this task to save itself, it actually never needed the leaking fluid in the first place. And yet, it died anyway.

Such is the state of education.

When does stress just become unbearable?

I’ve heard the saying, of course, that you “can’t pour from an empty cup” and so, I’ve decided to take a brief hiatus from teaching. Attempting to sweep up all of my leaking hydraulic fluid has left me exhausted and physically unwell. I’ve had heart palpitations. Depression. Anxiety. Stomach all tied up in knots. Sleeping too much. Trouble sleeping at all. I’m on 6 different medications a day like an old lady and half of them are for issues related to stress. So, I get it. That mass exodus of teachers: I get it.

The system is bleeding out. Hemorrhaging, even. And, there are underpaid, undervalued people who are working to stanch that flow every day. In return for their efforts, they are asked to do more: improve test scores, attend more meetings that could have been emails, close the racial performance gap, provide trauma support, get yelled at by parents, have the public refer to them as “glorified babysitters,” shift effortlessly between online learning and in-person as needed, wear masks, get tested, get vaccinated, break up violent fights, prepare for a mass shooting at their workplace, differentiate instruction so that each individual student gets a unique and tailored educational experience, do paperwork nobody reads, give standardized tests, and, well, you know, I am just tired of listing things so I have to stop.

I might add, though, that to the other teacher-moms out there: I know that being a mother is also unforgiving, thankless, and just damn hard, too. And it is hard in ways nobody ever told you about. I mean, we all knew there’d be diapers. But, when you have to deal with bullying, or mental health problems in your kids, or talking about sex and consent, or online predators — well, that was just not what I was thinking about when I was pregnant and people were all, “It’s hard but you’ll love it!” I do NOT enjoy worrying about an adult pretending to be a 13-year old girl to get a kid to meet him “IRL.” Give me a thousand diapers instead, actually.

What’s the moral to the story here? Hell if I know. I wish I had a perky call-to-action to end this rant. Or, a positive “however” statement to make here. I do not.

How many more empty teacher desks will it take before crisis truly sets in?

The world is changing. I guess that’s all there is to it.

If you’d like to read more about this nationwide teacher crisis, here are a few articles you might want to check out:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/10/18/teachers-resign-pandemic/

https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/teachers-are-not-ok-even-though-we-need-them-to-be/2021/09

https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2022/01/04/why-education-is-about-to-reach-a-crisis-of-epic-proportions/?sh=fcd302178c7b

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2022-01-06/more-teachers-than-ever-are-considering-leaving-the-profession

https://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-are-quitting-and-companies-are-hot-to-hire-them-11643634181

https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2019/09/05/we-need-to-stop-talking-about-the-teacher-shortage/?sh=472c6924494c

https://thejournal.com/articles/2022/01/19/survey-finds-teacher-shortage-exacerbated-by-bans-on-classroom-discussions-of-race-and-gender.aspx

The Road About To Be Taken

There is no real way to know the path you ought to take. “Two roads” may “diverge in a yellow wood” and you might notice that they are similarly untrodden, leaving no clear indication of which to take. You may *want* to take the one “less traveled by” but first of all, WHY? And, second of all, how do you know which it is if neither path is “trodden black” with footprints and markings?

I’m an English nerd and do loves me some Robert Frost and stuff. But, seriously, the question really does weigh on my mind: if I am at a crossroads in life and I look to my options, but obviously have no way of knowing where these options may lead, how am I ever supposed to know what the “right” thing to do is? How does ANYONE EVER know what the “right” thing to do is, for, like anything, ever?

I am about to turn 45 and my life is one giant crossroads right now. I’m dissatisfied at work, but feel too old to start over. My kids are school-aged, but don’t need me all of the time anymore. I feel my mortality as I crunch the numbers and realized I’ve likely lived more years than I have yet to live. I know I have neglected my health, both mental and physical, for ages. So, what now? What path do I go down? What paths are even available to me?

Many thanks to Unsplash for really cool photos that are just perfect, like this one.

I hope to explore this in the coming days and weeks in the hopes that first (and really most importantly because I know me and I don’t know you) I figure my damn life out, but also second, so that perhaps my journey might speak to someone else’s out there. I encourage you to reach out with advice, thoughts, experiences, and/or reactions you might have and hope you’ll pass this all along to anyone you know who might be experiencing a similar dilemma.

Let’s trek boldly into the Midlife Crisis now and see where this woody path leads.

Well, This is Awkward…

When a minimally-relevant blogger goes M.I.A. for, like two years, and then is all, “Oh right, I have a blog” and suddenly shows back up again…

awkward 1Right.

So, I once loved to write.  Still do, really.  But, life has gotten in the way.  It’s funny, too, because the whole point of this blog was (and is) to talk about the absurdity of growing older and the drama/trauma of being exhausted by work and life.

And, this is all pretty much the least awkward thing about me.  I’m super-awkward.  In fact, the first time I typed that prior sentence, I spelled it “awkard” because I’m so awkward that I can’t even keep all my letters right.

awkward 2People are not really my cup of tea.  Small talk is excruciating.  I’m always saying something stupid.

But, really, that’s in my head, I know.

From the outside looking in, I don’t think anyone things I’m as awkward as I think I am.  Words that have been used to describe me are “poised,” “articulate,” “organized.”  Holy shit that last one is funny.  My desk at work always looks like a bunch of Huns just got done pillaging it. But, I do use color-coded folders in Google Drive, so I’ve got that going for me.

But, what I am realizing is that there is no reason to listen to that dumb-ass in your head who talks to you and tells you how much you suck.  That voice isn’t even REAL.  It’s not a person.  It’s the manifestation of your fears.  It’s the coward of your psyche that lives in a world made exclusively of “what ifs,” and tears you forgot to cry, and memories of mistakes you never actually made and if you did everyone forgot about them anyway.

I wish I had known this at 13.  Or at 19.  Or at 30.  Or yesterday.

But, I suppose I can know them today.  I can start reveling in my badassery.  I can look at my body and be proud that it produced two beautiful children (one delivered naturally with NO drugs — though that hadn’t been the plan).  When I had my first son, an hour afterward, I thought I could do fucking ANYTHING.  I could probably leap buildings in a single bound.  I invented a human being and survived primal torture — torture, I say! — to get him from inside my body to the outside world that June day ten years ago.  I can look at the 85 pounds I cleaned-and-jerked at my CrossFit class not as an embarrassment because I hit that personal best of mine while standing next to a 24-year old who was lifting 120 lbs, but as a goddamn achievement to be celebrated because, not long ago, I could barely lift a fraction of that.  I can look at my desk and be like, “look what a creative MIND I must have!”

So, people, my snark and grumpiness is still inside me because it is frickin’ fabulous and delightful.  But, maybe, if you check back again soon, there will be more positivity here at Off Duty Mom.

Have a great day.

No.  Really…

A change is brewin’

I’m 39.

That might be really old or really young depending on who and where you are.  I have to admit that most of the time it feels kind of old, especially when I look at how much energy my kids have comparatively.

A little over a year ago, I decided that I didn’t want to be 40 and fat.  I knew I had no control over the 40 part, but the “fat” part of it was a different story.

Going back about 8 years now, I decided to become “Off Duty Mom” when I felt that too few people were talking about the ugly side of motherhood or parenting, for that matter.  I needed more people to be open about hemorrhoids, varicose veins, tantrums, post-natal constipation, potty-training, the obnoxiousness of Caillou and the vast abyss of Thomas the Tank Engine and Minecraft into which so many kids fall.

But, it seems that people are talking about those things now.  I am really happy that new mothers now won’t have to deal with what I did:  believing that everyone else had an easy go of it while I was over here crying every night at 7 PM for NO REASON WHATSOEVER (aka:  hormones) after giving birth.  Had my dear friend not said to me, 3 months before I delivered, “when I had my daughter I was not prepared for that much bleeding.  I mean there was blood everywhere,” I might not have known that sleeping on a bed that looks like it was prepared by a serial killer ready to dismember his neighbor and a small elephant or that those giant mesh undie things would be so very, very necessary.  Oh, the joy that was the icepack panty pad.  What a motherfucking fantastic invention.  And, had my mother not given me fiber pills when I came home from the hospital and just said, “TRUST ME,” I wouldn’t have been prepared for the colossal fucking ass-rip that was trying to poop after delivering a baby.

My kids are school-aged now and that comes with new challenges for me.  But, when I hit my don’t-be-40-and-fat “eureka” moment, I knew that I wasn’t just all about the kind of vanity that comes with wanting to lose weight in your 20’s.  It wasn’t about a goddamn thigh-gap.  It was about living a long and healthy life with my family.  I wanted to be strong and fit.  But, most of all, having struggled with depression and anxiety for so long, I wanted to stop the incessant message in my head that said about so much:  “I can’t.”

I repeated the ugly “I can’t” message to myself probably a few dozen times each day, every day.  It related to what I felt was utter exhaustion about e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. around me.  “I just can’t stay up any later.”  “I just can’t run and play with my kids outside.”  “I just can’t walk to the park.  We have to drive.”  The list went on and on.  There seemed to be no end to the things I told myself I couldn’t do as a mom, as a teacher, as a wife, and just as a living, breathing human.

So, I am moving on to talk about something else now that I don’t thing enough people are honest about:  aging gracefully.

Actually, cosmetics companies, fashion magazines, celebrities and other people I don’t particularly want to hear weigh in on the subject are talking about it plenty.  But, I am not hearing a dialogue about what matters to me.

So I am going to start one.

Ever seen a video online of some amazing 65-year old bodybuilding and being all “If I can do it, anyone can!  I’m 65!  Get off the couch!”

Fuck you, 65-year old.

I started CrossFit almost exactly one year ago.  I am most decidedly NOT starring in videos, lifting 150 pound over my head and telling people to get off the couch.  I am in no position to tell anyone a friggin’ thing about fitness.

When I tell people I do CrossFit, I get one of two reactions: awe or confusion.  Some people have never heard of it.  But, most think that I am fucking nuts.  They think I throw tires and run 5Ks with kegs of beer on my back.  Actually, I do push-ups on my knees and I get lightheaded after running 100 yards.

That fit, smirking 65-year old in the videos started small, too, I am guessing.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, y’all.

So, I am recharging Off Duty Mom.  I can’t talk legitimately anymore about how annoying Elmo is because

  1.  I am no longer in a place where Elmo is in my world.  It’s all K.C. Undercover and Avengers movies ’round here now and
  2. It’s been done and overdone.  Blah Blah Blah Being a Mom is Hard.

I mean, being a mom is still hard.  But, what I am finding hard at this point in my journey is how to be better to myself for my family.  How do I increase my life span and breathe in life with more joy and less exhaustion?

I will be sharing with you now the Off Duty Mom journey of growing older, becoming stronger, finding more positive headspace and not being 40 and fat.

Thanks for your readership up to this point.  I hope you’ll be interested in opening conversations about how we can (and must) take better care of ourselves not so we can compete with the 22-year old moms at the pool whose bodies just sprung right back into magazine-cover shape post-partum (“it was so easy!”), but so we can grow from our former selves.

Join me.

Be better

FUCKING MILLENNIALS.

I swear to all that is good an holy that if I have to listen to one more twenty-something complain about bills and college and, you know, LIFE, I am going to lose my damn mind.

I’m an ageist.  I admit to totally being completely and unabashedly discriminatory against the under 30 set.  And, I admit to hating this generalized demographic even while having many friends, colleagues and other people I generally respect, fall into this category.

It is absolutely not that I am out of touch.  I get it.  I’ve taught for long enough that the first few graduating classes of seniors I worked with are now squarely in their 30’s.  So, while this makes me super old, it also means that I have watched teenagers grapple with the educational system since the 90’s.  I understand that everyone tells you that you HAVE to go to college, then you go broke once you do the thing that everyone insisted you do, but weren’t sure you really wanted to do in the first place.  But, you marched along with the other lemmings and filled out your FAFSA and got your degree in French Literature and now you fold sweatshop clothes at the strip mall.  I know.  We all know because you have told us about a million times on Twitter, but perhaps you may have forgotten to take responsibility for your own actions, decisions and life.

My 9th graders are working on a research project right now in class.  I would estimate that only about 30% of them have accepted this challenge by digging in and really pouring through resources.  That 30% is going to the library, using databases to find periodicals, and utilizing scholarly websites and journals to find high-quality information for their writing.

The other 70% says something like, “can you help me?”.  Now, it is totally my job to help kids.  But, when I would come over to the desk of one of these 70%’ers, I would usually say, “What can I help you do?”.  This is usually met with blank stares.  Or, with a generic, “I don’t know how to start?”  or just “I don’t understand.”  If pressed  with, “what don’t you understand?”, I either get “all of it” or a shoulder shrug and more blank staring.

See, the thing is that for years and years, we’ve tried to protect our children from failure, doubt, mistakes and disappointment.  And, as a teacher who has seen a generation of kids who cannot struggle in a healthy way terrifies me.  There are millions of young people who are incapable of dealing with heartache, with rejection and with broken promises.

Is college too expensive?  Yes.  But so is just about everything that we actually want.  When we told all the kids that they needed college, they listened.  The demand went up.  It got more expensive.  This is how things work.

Are there too few jobs out there and is the majority being suffocated by the so-called “1%”?  I dunno.  Maybe?  But, so the fuck what?  Do something about it.  Change your world.  Change yourself.  Change your perspective.  Just don’t write a letter to your CEO about how you can’t afford your rent.  It’s not his problem.  It’s yours.  Figure something out.  Struggle.  Sweat.  Overcome.

I want my children at home to be independent.  I don’t want them just to make awesome independent decisions about getting mermaid hair or listening to 21 Pilots be Just. So. Avant-Garde.  (Look at us and how avant-garde we are!)  I want them to tell me, “It’s okay mom.  I can do it myself” when I offer to button a shirt or cut a banana.  I’ll cry that my babies are all grown up, but I do not want to raise boys who cannot or will not try something that is hard, maybe even do it wrong or just shitty or even get a little bumped and bruised in the process, but the come out on the other side with a product that they can own entirely themselves.

In the words of one of my favorite fashion gurus, “Make it work,” people.

The Whole Life Challenge: Am I Still Doing This?

I love potatoes and naps.

I don’t get much of either — the latter due to, you know… life, and the former because of the tyranny that is the Whole Life Challenge that I paid and signed up for totally willingly.

We’re in something like week 6ish now.  It is ok.  I have lost a few pounds, but not enough to make me feel all that excited about it.  I lost far more weight on Weight Watchers a few years back, though, admittedly, everyone one of those pounds came back and brought a few friends.

Perhaps getting older just sucks at its core.  I suppose that is true just anyway, but it seems of particular significance when one is trying to get one’s butt off of the couch and turn one’s life into the stuff of health and wellness.

Rather than this being a complaint, I do truly have a question:  Why is this so hard?  Many  of us complain of this frequently, but honestly, why is it so hard just to live a decent life?  Is it a fat-American thing?  Why are so many of us working so fucking hard just to reach a baseline level of health?  Why is the norm ruinous?  It is like so many of us start in the negative and have to work damn hard just to get closer to zero.

CrossFit is changing me.  I wanted it to change my mind more than I wanted it to change my body and I am finding that, so I can put most of my complaints aside.

But, I would love to hear from you.  Why is staying healthy (not even being skinny or competitively athletic or fearsome) so laborious?

 

Day 7 of the Whole Life Challenge, or What I am Proud of

This still sucks.  Honestly.  Everyone said it would get better.  Now, I am not technically crying anymore, but nevertheless, I still fricking hate this.

I am staring at a chocolate bar.  There is longing in my heart.  I yearn.

I am hungry.  I have decided that I hate water.

I am NOT proud of my willpower.  I do have some kick-ass willpower, though.  But, I don’t feel an emotion that cancels out all of the other negativity that emanates from my belly.

So, in an attempt not to bring everyone down, I will list for you instead things I AM proud of.

rem

  1.  I know all of the words to “It’s the End of the World as We Know it” by REM.  I break this out at, you know, parties and other social gatherings where I am high on life (or vodka).  This one shows my age, just like the realization that internet research didn’t really exist until after I had graduated from college.  I had to read BOOKS.
  2. I can do “The Carlton.”  This one shows my age, too.  carltonNo, I do not perform this sacred dance on command.  I gotsta be in the mooood for it.  But, I rock at it.  It is one of the many ways I am awesome. (Note:  Working out and eating right are not typically ways in which I am awesome, hence my loathing of this challenge.)
  3. skull I can Hamlet my ass off.  When kids leave my class, they lurv this play and I can’t blame them.  It’s the bomb-diggity.  Best work of literature ever.  And, I am magical at it.  I seem to have some sort of witchcraftery I can spin on unsuspecting young minds.  Follow me into the darkness and despair of Shakespearean tragedy, little ones…
  4. I am super good at embarrassing my kids.  That “Carlton” dance ain’t the only moves I got in the ol’ repertoire.  My oldest HATES to see me dance.  So, naturally, I do it as much as possible.  I get professional-grade eyerolls every time.  Bazinga!dancin
  5. I am a beast at Taboo.  Come at me, bro.  I will destroy you.  My husband and I make a fearsome team.  You do NOT want some of this.  We will embarrass you.  This actually makes us no fun to play with at all.  We’re crazy competitive and will trash talk you at this simple party game until you want to take back that hostess gift you brought and go the hell home.taboo

Feel free to comment and tell me what cool tricks and talents you have, too!  If you rock at the Whole Life Challenge, though, and think it is super easy and chocolate is not even that hard for you to avoid, you can keep that shit to yourself.

Day 6 of the Whole Life Challenge, or Maybe I Won’t Die

At the end of Day 5 of the Whole Life Challenge, I didn’t entirely feel like I hated absolutely everyone around me.  I still hated the kids in my classes who thought it was hilarious when Juliet cried at Romeo’s death.  Grow up, bastards.

But, this might not kill me and I suppose that is a good thing.  A few days ago I cried real tears over not having all of my favorite stuff.  Now, I am doing…ok.  I will call that a victory.

Let me tell you, though, about a few things I really miss that I didn’t think I would…

  1.  Soy Sauce — I mean, how freaking delicious is this salty, fermented additive?  I couldsoy

    drown my food in it.  I am allowed to have brown rice on this diet, but what good is that if I cannot smother it in brewed bean juice?

2.  Tortillas — For a long while I was tricked into thinking that foods that got wrapped in a tortilla were better for me.  Alongtortilla the way, I realized that I had fallen in love with these little flaps of goodness.  I’d like to wrap everything up in a cozy blanket of processed pseudo-Mexican fabulosity.

3.  Cheese — I know that many people have serious cravings for cheese.  I am not one of those people.  There are just so many things you cannot have because cheese is a part of it somewhere.  I normally top my steamed broccoli with a little grated parm.  I like eggs only in the form of a quiche that has tons of cheese in it.  Otherwise, eggs be yucky.CheeseAssortment

4.  Honey — I love it.  I use it in so many recipes to sweeten things up just a smidge and to get the health benefits of local honey.  I think that one reason that my detox has been so unpleasant is because I had really gotten very used to having this kind of sugar in my diet very regularly.  I do plan to go back to this when the challenge is over, though because I feel like it is still good for me, my environment and my local economy.honey

A big question for me is whether (or how much) of this challenge I will continue with after the 8-week game is over.  After spending all of this time ridding my system of the junk I had put in it, I wonder how much of it I will be putting right back in again.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t have dreams of Pringles and pizza.  And ranch dressing.  And chocolate truffles.  But, I am fairly sure that I can do this.  Since starting the challenge, this is the first time I can say that and actually think I might actually mean it.

We’ll see how I am tomorrow and, more importantly, at the end of 8  weeks.  I am constantly hungry, though, and I do not feel as though I am depriving myself of any quantities of food.  The pineapple and quiche (without cheese — boooooo) were of a totally normal if not large portion size.  And, I was hungry again 20 minutes later.

Your tips are welcome!

Day 5 of the Whole Life Challenge, or An Interview with Myself

Interviewer:  So, how is the Whole Life Challenge going?

Off Duty Mom:  I hate it.

Int.:  I bet it’s tough being so awesome at everything:  parenting, teaching, snark…

ODM:  It is.  That is exactly why the Whole Life Challenge is difficult for me.  I am so fucking fabulous at everything else.  It wouldn’t be fair to all of the un-awesome people if I dominated at this.

Int.:  How are your workouts going?  The Whole Life Challenge is all about a holistic approach to wellness, after all.

ODM:  I work out.  That is all I have to say.

Int.: What do you usually do after a workout?

ODM:  I fall over.  Usually.

Int.:  How do you recover?

ODM:  I’m supposed to recover?

Int.:  Right.  Yes.  What do you do to help your body get rid of lactic acid and retain the benefits of your workout?

ODM:  After the gym, I normally like to eat junk food and drink beer, but the Whole Life Challenge is kinda effing that up for me.

Int.:  Aren’t you proud of yourself for taking on this fabulous challenge?

ODM:  No.

Int.:  But, seriously, it has to feel good to know you are doing such good things for your body.

ODM:  Is that a question?

Int.:  Fine.  Aren’t you pleased with yourself to know you’re improving your health?

ODM:  I’d be more pleased if by “improving your health” you meant “eating french fries.”

Int.:  It’s Day 5, how do you feel?

ODM:  Like a truck hit me.  I am tired and sore from a workout two days ago.  I feel worse instead of better.

Int.:  I hear that if you stick it out, you will feel fabulous.  Can you stick with it?

ODM:  Look — I have the willpower.  That isn’t the issue.  I just hate everyone and everything right now.  The question is whether the people around me can stick with me while I detox from caffeine and sugar.

Int.:  Well, thanks for your time.

ODM:  I hate you.  And, you’re welcome.

Day 4 of the Whole Life Challenge, or Please Make it Stop

I actually kind of fucking hate this challenge.

For those of you who do not know, the Whole Life Challenge is an 8-week fitness, health and wellness program that challenges you to treat your body well.  You are encouraged to eat right, get good sleep, drink lots of water, stretch, work out and be well.  There is a list of foods you can and cannot eat.  Let me break it down for you:  you can eat, like, celery.  You cannot eat any of the things that make you happy (dairy, soy, gluten, sugar, alcohol, soda, chocolate, etc.).

Today I am especially grumpy and I really want to quit.  Like, a whole lot.  But, I won’t, even though water tastes like unhappiness.  Yes, I have tried “detox waters” and I have put lemon in my bottle and, no, it doesn’t fucking help.  If it isn’t Diet Coke or beer, I don’t really want it.  While I am allowed one glass of wine per week, that doesn’t do much to make me feel better.  I haven’t partaken in this for the first week yet because I am afraid to waste it, should a day arise where I need that small glass of comfort later in the week.  But, nevertheless, it is not Diet Coke, nor is it beer, so it will only be a small comfort.

Look — I am terribly overweight and I need to take better care of my children’s mother.  For far too long I have sought asylum within the beautiful confines of junk food and chemical additives.  It is no good at all.  But, I wonder if this is any way to live.  A long life without chocolate is not necessarily a better life, amirite?

Everyone keeps telling me that it will get better.  But, my muscles hurt from my workout, my tastebuds are mad at me and I am tired despite getting enough sleep.  I want to curl up in a ball and feel sorry for myself.

So, there is your little ray of sunshine from me today!  Please comment and tell me something happy in your life so I can live vicariously through you.  Or comment with a picture of french fries or with a story of how fit and healthy you are so I can be happy for/hate  you…

 

Day 3 of the Whole Life Challenge, or Stevia is NOT Sugar

I want to kill people less today.

I don’t have much else to report. But, I am sick of cooking so much. There is nothing Paleo at McDonalds. Why do I have to cooooooooook everything from scratch?

On another note, I went to CrossFit today and I can’t move my legs. So, standing over a stove has been unfun.

Tomorrow is a new day, right?

Day 2: Whole Life Challenge, or I Already Want to Murder People

Going “cold turkey” off of Diet Coke was a terrible idea.

And, after only two days, I want to quit and, really, the diet is not that hard. I mean, you get to eat bacon.

It’s an awful mental challenge. I haven’t had cheesecake in like a year. But, now that you TELL me I can’t have it, I obsessively want it. I feel like I’d push old people out of the way if cheesecake were within ten feet of me and grannies were in the way. I’d push ’em hard. I don’t care.

I feel sluggish and my head hurts  and everyone around me is annoying to me.

I want to quit but I am not going to.

I cried a little today when I reflected on how much weight I have gained since having kids and how I am pretty much the fattest woman at my gym.  And I cried when I realized my hands were shaking a little from caffeine withdrawal.

I remembered from those early days as a new mom that hot showers could cure some of the worst feelings.  So, I took my dog for a walk, stretched while listening to Portishead and then took a hot shower that wasted tons of water, I’m sure.

And, now I don’t want to kill EVERYONE, so there’s that.

I will blog again tomorrow and hopefully feel a little better.

Fingers crossed…

 

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