Randomness (Sort of)

shoes and gunsHello from a rather interesting coffee shop in Jim Thorpe, PA, 

For the second day of the weekend, I am back at work and trying to get a number of things off my plate and get myself a bit more organized. It is Father’s Day and I am realizing too things: first that it has been so many years so I have been able to greet my father with that familiar greeting (and I wish I might have done it more effectively than I had), and second, what allows someone to be a father? Is it merely a chromosome? If it is, then I am not a father nor a parent because I have never successfully given said chromosome. Yet, as those who have taken the time to read this blog with any consistency know that I have pondered the being a parent pretty extensively. As I have looked at pictures posted on Facebook today, I see so many #TBT pictures of friends from throughout my life posting pictures of that male person who holds the name “father” and the subsequent importance in their lives. What is important in this thought process for me today is what makes someone a good parent, for either gender? I never thought I would be a soon to be sexagenarian (rather ironic term considering the topic) and childless or single. Not that I probably had a very clear sense of where I would be at this point. I was not a child who had a very clear vision of who I was or where I would be. That might be the reason I am where I am. That sense of place or belonging comes back to the fore for me. What I do know is that I was afraid I would not be a very good parent, not because my adoptive father was a bad parent, but rather because I was not sure how I would manage the difficulties or the struggles and I was uncertain I was capable of being the person I should be. But who is that person? What do we expect of parents? Is it the same today as it was when I was growing up? I am not sure it is. There are a variety of reasons that I posit that opinion. 

I am continually amazed (perhaps because I am serving in this capacity, albeit at the other end) how we have seemed to vilify education and educators, but too often I hear about things that are supposedly the “teacher’s” or “educator’s” fault. Things that have to do with behavior or basic decorum. That word is an old word, but it is a word that it seems we need to resurrect. Since when did it become the public (or private) school’s job to teach a young person manners, or appropriate behavior, or respect, or (fill in the blank). This past semester, in a first year writing course, on the first day when I laid out my requirements for the students and worked my way through the syllabus and my expectations, when I told a student he only had three absences . . .  and I did not differentiate between excused or unexcused, he informed me that “[I was] a dick.” He said this in the classroom in front of the entire class. Heaven forbid that I would tell him how to invest his money or require something in “my” classroom. At a conference not long ago, a faculty person for whom I have great respect noted the following thing. In what other venue, do you “purchase a ticket to attend” . . . (see this another word for tuition for a moment)and then choose not to go? I am pretty sure if most of my students had purchased a ticket to the Electric Daisy Concert (EDC) or to Lady Gaga or to this summer’s Stones concerts, they would cancel life to get there and yet when we “require” attendance in our classes, I become a dick. As an aside, the student dropped the course, even though it was a required first year course. I was not displeased that he decided not to take my course. One of the places I have actually learned to be somewhat of a father figure is in those first year courses when many students are struggling to find their footing. I do not make things easier in terms of requirements, but I help them understand and meet the requirements. I love seeing the growth that occurs for most from the time they are a wide-eyed freshman until they become a bit of a wide-eyed college graduate, but one with a bit more maturity and respect. That word seems to have lost some things. And it is not always young people.

I am so glad I am in Pennsylvania and no longer in Wisconsin, where the state legislature and the governor continue to attack education at all levels. Recently, the governor proposed yet another 250,000,000.00 (yes, that much) to higher education, but is willing to give that same astounding amount to an NBA franchise. So somehow supporting 15 people (and I understand there are workers at the facility) is more important than educating 182,000 students and employing 32,000 faculty (2011 figures). This logic or lack thereof is stunning beyond comprehension . . . and this bozo believes he should run for president (I know he has not declared yet). If he would somehow get elected, much like the COs of the Vietnam era, I think I would merely go to Canada. I do understand the cost of education has gotten out of hand and I know that we all share that burden, but since when did become an educator seem to be more of a problem than a help. It seems to me that is where we are. My local paper finds it appropriate to run a spreadsheet of all of our salaries every year, but does not provide much as far as background and what sort of sacrifices we made to get to the doctoral level or how we continue to work to be the best or most expert we can be at what we do. Again, it seems we have little respect for those to whom we entrust the education of our future leaders and those who will eventually be called on to care for us. Instead we blame those same educators when their sons or daughters do not perform or follow through on what they are called to do. I remember getting a failing grade in chemistry when I was a junior in high school. My father called the teacher, but not to give that teacher a hard time, but to get to the truth of the matter than his number 2 son did not provide. The consequence of my failure was being grounded to my room for nine weeks. My father did not castigate the teacher for my failure. The one time in my entire tenure in public school that I ended up in front of the principal for a fist fight, I was petrified. I had not only gotten my ass kicked in the fight, I was pretty sure it was going to get beat, both in the principal’s office and later that night at home. How far we have come when it is the teacher’s fault or it is the system’s fault or we needed armed guards at school because of violence. How far we have come when it seems apropos to call a professor a dick or it is reasonable to have weapons on a college campus. It seems rather than progress, we have fallen back into a time when the idea of survival of the fittest is about who can bully the best, shoot the fastest, or influence with the most money. This is not to say there are not positive things in our society today, but when one looks at the news, somehow we have lost more than we have perhaps gained.

This brings me to the next point . . .  fill in the blank again . . . . Columbine, Tucson, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston . . .  when is enough actually enough? Even on my own campus (or just off campus) students were shot last year. Since 1982, there have been 61 mass shooting in the country (Washington Post), and the great majority of those shootings occurred with legally purchased weapons. Another study counted 78 mass killings in about the same period (this study was done by Congress) and almost 550 people lost their lives. From 2000 to 2013 the incidences of these types of violence has more than doubled and six of the deadliest shootings in the US have occurred since 2007 (Washington Post). Again, note no where have I said get rid of guns. I began a conversation on FB today and responses from some of my more conservative friends, for whom I have a lot of respect because we came from the same college and learned many of the same things, have seemed to think I am anti-Second Amendment. I am not. In fact, I have noted this before in this blog. If you go back to that posting, I asserted that the question of gun ownership has to do with the issue of needing or wanting a weapon. The 2nd Amendment, again as previously noted is what allows us to even have a discussion about guns on any level. I think the entire question about availability and ownership is complex. What constitutes common sense questions and a common sense conversation? I think it is the same problem that becomes apparent when I ask my students what the goal of an argument is. They (and the majority of people)  will respond that the goal is to win. The actual goal of an argument is to get more information out and a better possibility of an appropriate decision made. However, we have such an adversarial precedent in how we manage so many things, it has become the way we seem to manage most everything. Hence, our loss of civility . . . And that loss creates a lack of respect and by extension, at least for me, a lack of care for life in general. I know those are some leaps, but I could break it down more, but tou would have the longest blog posting in history. 

As someone with a PhD in rhetoric, I am personally offended whenever someone says, “It is just rhetoric.” They have little idea how wrong they are. The use of rhetoric is fundamental to whom we are. It was once on the the basic elements of education. Perhaps if we returned to teaching rhetoric we might communicate more effectively and we might be more civil with each other. I learned more about that when I listened to a group of characters with power this evening who failed to be honest about their intent even though I told them they had already “revealed what they were going to do.” Within 5 minutes they did exactly what they had revealed. I know that at least one part of the quartet present is happy the variance was not allowed. Rhetorical strategies abound. I will manage things as it seems best to do. Amazing that things are decided the way and in the manner they are. Well, I am sure I will figure it all out. They are worried about 10 or 15 years down the road and if I am still alive when the majority of them are probably significantly older than I am. Go figure.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

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