Archive for the ‘Dispatches from the Edge: Editorials’ Category

9-11, Columbine and Sandy Hook. And now, the weekend of May 23, 2014 will forever go down as one of the blackest periods in American history as I know it. That evening, Elliot Rodger emailed a 138-page “manifesto” to his parents and his therapist… after hacking three of his roommates to death. He then proceeded to take the lives of three others, before ending his own with a bullet to the head.

Isla Vista 3 Isla Vista 1

Some of the victims had been friends of my stepdaughter’s friends. My partner and I wept, realizing that any of our own girls and their friends could have been victims, too, had they been in the same sorority house, or even the same area. One father, Richard Martinez, had just seen his son less than an hour before the shootings began. It would be the last time he’d see him alive. I cannot even imagine the pain. But that was only the beginning for me. I had an ominous feeling that there was more to come.

Isla Vista 2

A young friend, an old student of mine at Crespi High School, told me that Elliot Rodger had been a classmate of his in 2005 — the same time I’d taught there. It shocked me, like a jolt of lightning, to realize that I had some sort of indirect link, not just with the victims… but with the killer. He had never been one of my own students. I would have remembered him, even among the ranks of scrawny, long-haired, soft-spoken runts that tiptoed the testosterone-filled, macho environment of Crespi. I didn’t know any of the other students he named in his manifesto, bullies who tormented him during his short stay. All the same, I couldn’t help but think that this shy, quiet boy, with his own inner turmoils and demons, possibly crossed paths with me more than once, even if we hadn’t been in the same immediate space for more than a few seconds.

Elliot Rodger 1

I never knew Elliot Rodger.  He was never in my rosters, never under my charge. So when I learned about him after that fateful day, the name didn’t immediately register. Now, thinking about that proximity devastates me in a way I may not fully fathom. If one of my loved ones had perished at Isla Vista, I would lose my will to live. But to possibly know — or even be literally close — to someone who would perpetrate such a hateful act, makes me feel like a murderer, an unwitting accomplice who will be forever damned, for those seven deaths.

As a teacher, I learned early on that it wasn’t so much the lesson in the classroom that was the most important thing, but the “intangibles,” the invaluable life lessons from hard experience, that mattered most. How to be a respectable Man or Woman, a righteous Citizen of the world. Protect the lesser of our brethren. I have much more to say later on, as to how Crespi failed in that regard. For my part, though, I tried to live up to that bargain. I imparted whatever imperfect knowledge I could share. I was relentlessly harsh when I disciplined my boys, but I never once laid a finger on them. Most important of all, though, I promised myself that I would protect my boys, not just from the outside elements, but from the cruelties within. That meant protecting them from each other, from bullies, from a cold, heartless administration that had been corrupted by money and power. Often, that meant standing toe-to-toe with a larger kid, if he tried to pick on one of my boys. Always the scrapper, I wasn’t afraid to take down a belligerent if I had to. Even other teachers could be bullies. I nearly got into a fight with a colleague after he started to verbally abuse my students. For that one act, I’d won my students’ respect. I’d do it again, too. I’d walk through fire for them, if it meant that they would safely cross into that threshold called Adulthood.

My teaching years are behind me, but I’ve managed to keep track of some of my old students. Many of them have finished college, married and now have children. Many are now nurses, doctors, lawyers, and even teachers. A few signed up to serve our country. One of my boys proudly told me that he had just joined the Navy, and was well on his way to becoming a tech working alongside the famed Navy SEALs. He had just married and was now starting a family of his own.

Isla Vista 4

Elliot Rodger will never see that now. Neither will any of the six victims in Isla Vista, who all died because of our collective failure to protect them. I hold the NRA and the entire gun-lobby movement responsible, for failing to empathize, to constructively find a solution to the madness. I hold our government, especially Congress, responsible, for failing to look out for our true interests, spinelessly kowtowing to the interests of a tyrannical few. I hold our society responsible, for fostering this culture of greed, a zero-sum game that pushes a winner-take-all agenda, where the strong bully the weak, instead of protecting them. Where misfits are bred into irreversible madmen.

Most of all, I blame us, all of us. For failing to do the right thing, for failing to hold our own leaders and institutions accountable. I blame us — parents, teachers, therapists, friends, even bystanders, for not watching out, for not doing enough, to stop wrong from happening. It was never just about preventing one madman from doing harm; it was about preventing madmen from becoming who they are, until their tragic end. The shame is all equally ours to pay. My heart is heavy with pain and regret for our collective failure.

Until we all gather enough courage to protect our people — not with guns, but with good, sensible upbringing — we will forever be condemned to keep suffering more of these tragedies. Until then, God have mercy on us all.

Copyright © 2014 The Anabases

———- I just renewed my domain and server use with Go Daddy; I sometimes question the wisdom of shelling out $60 each year. I could be continuing my blog with any one of those free sites, being among them. The main reason I went through all that trouble was so that I could try to make a living off the ads, what few clicks I could get.

Two years and a measly $35 and change in revenue later, earning a living via blogging has turned out to be pretty much a lie and, well, obsolete. The past two years, I was lucky enough to find some kind of filler work to get by, so I never really got a chance to work on the blogging thing. Besides, I was making more than minimum wage, and definitely more than what I make blogging. The economics didn’t make sense, if one thought full-time blogging would pay for one’s bills. I’d have to rack my brains constantly to come up with stuff, and perhaps dumb down my content enough, to attract tons of readers. That is something I am not going to stoop down to.

Speaking of work, I finally became permanent, after temping on this job for nearly eight months. I have to say that, compared to the rest of what I’ve had to endure previous to this… it’s okay. I’m now at a company that does pension planning for people in the movie and TV industry, mostly the technical crew. It’s a short, 15-minute drive from home. I work as a processor, analyzing money and hours coming in, making sure there are no contractual or eligibility issues, and what not. It’s quiet, for the most part. Except for when the two or three individuals in my own department start bitching about how bossy the supervisor is, and how it’s a waste of time doing some stupid little task is; the same people have, apparently, enough time to waste by keeping their yappers open all day long.

I sometimes want to go to their work zones and shake the fuck out of them; I’m not the only one, either. Or, better yet, kick them out in the street, where they can figure out just how lucky they are to even have a fucking job. Here I am, feeling grateful for this opportunity to save and do good, working hard to create a good impression and just do a good job. Then my zen gets disrupted by some bad vibes from these idiots.

The sad part is, they’re not the only ones in the company — or any company, for that matter — who bitch and complain. Quite a few, especially if they’ve been on the job for a long time, seem to focus on the negative. It must be a tendency, human nature, for one to forget what blessings there are, however few or great, and to keep score of each indignity at work.

But, as my brother always reminds me, “It’s still only work.”

Having had to eat a lot of dirt before getting to this point, I am still feeling unbelievably lucky. I intend to stay that way. I feel like I have all that I need right now, to get me on that path, to reach my goals. I’m earning my daily bread, and finally being productive. If some sorry-ass whiners that are fairly harmless (and I’m keeping it that way) are all I have to worry about, then I should feel so lucky. Compared to my previous life (which I’ve long since buried, albeit temporarily), which was full of long working hours, grueling loads of paperwork, lesson plan after lesson plan, problem students, and equally problematic parents and administrators, uncertainty in the summers — this is heaven. I don’t have to take work home, I can enjoy myself, or spend quality time with my loved ones, and then some.

Most important of all, I have enough time to write and reflect. I have a cushion that pays the bills, while I toil on my novel. My million-dollar-or-more insurance policy, lottery ticket-winner, retirement fund, all rolled into one. Ah, yes… I can still dream, while I work on my project; days, I go to day job; then it’s back to the novel, or some other project, and the cycle repeats itself. Then maybe this whole blogging thing might make sense for what it’s best for, namely exposure, publicity. Above all else, an outlet for creativity, for writing, rants, and various other matters of the left and the right hemispheres of the brain.

My target deadline for finishing the Second Draft: June 30, 2011.

Copyright Anabasius 2011

The Increasing Dropout Rate in America, Why an Overhaul of Our Educational System is Long Overdue, and Where to Start

Our educational system has it all backwards, my beloved Partner claims. As we grow older, we tend to learn and retain more information, even the more complex bits like calculus or chemistry. In our younger days, a student was already remarkable if he or she could master second-year algebra before gra- duation. Today, second-year algebra is a bare minimum requirement to pass most high school programs. I am compelled to agree and further expound on this argument – and not just because my Partner is pretty and smart.

Today, many schools have in place advanced classes that neither I nor my Partner could ever dream of adding, back in our time. In addition to the battery of Honors and Advanced Placement prep classes generally available, there are now hybrid classes. For instance, a “Math Analysis” class combines the essentials of precalculus and first-semester calculus.  “Integrated Science” is a modular class that takes the most interesting parts of science – astronomy, geology and so forth. Why didn’t we have these before?

have been piled on top of preexisting requirements, as if they would seriously improve the declining aptitude skills of poorly-performing students.Yet, for each salivating choice, there are also more of the dry requirements whose usefulness is questionable, at best.  1-2 more years of Math and English. I have heard of and had to repeat some tired reasons for this grueling regime. “You need all these classes to get ready for college,” is the Number One most overused mantra.  Sure, I can think of many reasons why physics and chemistry are important. But I can’t, for the life of me, come up with one good reason why Pascal’s Triangle is essential. [These crazy mathematicians are imposing their views of the world like dogma, and it’s utterly disturbing.]

Photo by Joe Mabel

Educators today place more of a sense of urgency to finish even more classes (as compared to then) in the same amount of time is greater. Yet, the general statistics are alarming, to say the least. For the most powerful free nation on Earth, one would expect that more and more people should be finishing high school each year, but such is not the case. Most research now show that the rate of graduating high school seniors has decreased. As of a report dated March, 2009, California alone accounts for the most dropouts of any state (710,000). The most affected demographic group are Latinos and African-American, primarily because they are situated in poverty or other cases of hardship which, needless to say, do not enhance the learning environment. Parenting has something to do with that, but that’s a topic for another essay. This factor makes up about 70-80% of change that could be controlled by a student or parents themselves, following Pareto’s Law.

Beyond that, those of us in the educational field have a fundamental obligation to create an environment that will enable an optimal learning environment. It should never have been about what to learn that should have been the argument, but how to enable it. The other 20% of change, that can’t be controlled by individuals and their families, can be tagged on our current educational system.

I shall bluntly address this now. Our current model works on a numbers game that passes 70% of the general population – which means, 30% of our students, on average, will fail to graduate high school in a timely manner. Out of that 70% that pass, only 20% or less are expected to excel in advanced studies or material, which means that, other than those who are fighting for a better grade, or just simply to pass, the 70% that fall under the bell curve have no real incentive to excel beyond their comfort zone. For instance, a chemistry student coasting along a “C” or a “D” and doesn’t expect to make much more in the finals, won’t feel as motivated to bust a move studying all night, since it won’t make a critical difference. However, a student who’s a few points shy of a “B” or an “A” – does.

Kindergarten Classroom in Marina, California

Unfortunately, our current model – which, by the way, has been in place for nearly 200 years – carries over an academic version of Darwinian Natural Selection, a biased and oppressive mentality that has been responsible for two World Wars and other man-made disasters. It’s also been the basis of a flawed and outdated system that becomes more recalcitrant despite the best efforts of teachers and administrators alike.  I have come to realize that my Partner’s comment in the introduction, shockingly applies to teachers as well. For those of us in elementary and secondary education, I think we generally start out as good teachers with good intentions… and become increasingly stingy with age. In the beginning, I wanted to focus on making sure everyone was on the same page, and understood what was going on.

While my methods were crude at best, I now realize I cared a lot more when I started. As I progressed in teaching, I gradually fell into that mentality of “separating the wheat from the chaff.” Like so many thousands of teachers, I dutifully followed the Department of Education’s guidelines of differen- tiating work between students. “Differentiating” generally meant creating different standards of learning for a diverse group in any classroom. It is a lot of work, and very divisive and morale-lowering, in some cases, since it identifies excellent and slow-learning students alike, without the luxury of privacy or discretion. In general, dealing with an average class size of 30-40 students is a lot of work. This is where the Darwin-Pareto Method comes in handy, because it allows teachers to discriminate and use the law of averages to streamline work.

If you are feeling the least bit uncomfortable about that word “discriminate,” then rightly you should. Teachers, above all others, should never, ever discriminate. And yet, while we have been taught to never do so under any circumstances – we as teachers are guilty. This kind of discrimination does not focus on the color of someone’s skin, or sexual orientation, or any other physical representation. It is a kind that is subtle and glaring all at once. The subtle references are peripheral, and ties to underachieving demographics as mentioned previously. The more glaring aspects have to do with how it affects a child’s tender ego, as well as the fallacy of predestination that it imprints on our children. In elementary school, we hand out gold stars for everyone who can master basics; in high school, the most one can expect are “A’s.” As teachers, we are made to believe and preach that these should not come cheap, either, because at the collegiate level, there will be no mercy whatsoever.  However, it’s not as if the institutes of higher learning are making any effort to change. There is a disconnect somewhere, but I give the educators at the elementary and high school levels more credit for dealing with the crisis directly.

Besides, the hype about college has lost most of its luster, in light of the horrendous financial recession we are encountering. The face of post- secondary education is changing fast, from one that was teacher and classroom-oriented, to a more vocation-school-type setting, where everyone learns at their own pace, and with their own deadlines. That was how I learned my basics in typing and accounting, 20 years ago, at a business college. It’s the general trend of many college classes today, going online. The payoff is straightforward and clear: Master these skills, and you learn skills that are easily translatable to the working world, whatever the current demands may be.

If the realm of higher learning is changing suit, then isn’t it time the rest of the educational institutions followed suit? While we shouldn’t expect more gold stars and other perks that are more appropriate for children, we should create a system that provides enough rewards and incentives for people to continue to want to pursue a course. It could be jobs, or the skills needed to perform a job correctly.  Grades should be treated as an afterthought; they are not, nor have they ever been, a good barometer of a person’s total aptitude. For our society to continue to improve and advance, we must grow beyond the fallacy and irrationality of grades and numbers. A person who fails is our own collective responsibility. If we want to see a future that is beneficial to all 100% of our citizens, and not just 70%, we have to adopt a more caring and sensible apprentice-type approach to learning, one that simultaneously enables everyone to succeed in the basics and allows them to achieve higher educational pursuits.

Copyright Anabasius 2010

“High School Dropout Crisis” Continues in the U.S.

Educated in America: College Graduates & High School Dropouts

The Fallacy of Private School Education