Thursday, September 13, 2012

It's Personal

About two weeks ago a couple of my close friends made the public pronouncements that they would not be using Facebook to post anything political during this general election. Upon making these pronouncements they received the accolades of others who shared their desire to hear only about the impending football season or what event and news story we can partner with the latest image of an American gymnast looking unimpressed.

When I read this I was hurt.  Not mad.  Just hurt and when I said something I was asked why I was getting so upset; he/she was just trying to keep things light.  To explain myself in a Facebook status might be too heavy for some, so I decided to take to this venue to express just why keeping things light is not something I am cool with right now.  Not in this election.

I like being an American.  I like the stupid American things like eating McDonald’s, Super Big Gulps, watching shows like Dance Moms or The Real Housewives of New Jersey.  I also like the serious things about being an American, like marching to demand better rights and benefits for veterans, posting my ideas on a blog without going to sleep tonight worrying that the police will kick down my door and detain me for being an upstart, and the history that built the most powerful country in the world.  Having said all of this, being raised in America has made me a man who does not tolerate injustice well.  As Americans, we don’t.  We are told from the first day we start toddling around this world that we are “special” and that no one should make us feel inferior.  We're number 1, right?  Well, it has become increasingly clear as I have grown in my relationships and career that this is not true for me.  I am not treated the same as everyone else.  I do not have access to the same things that other Americans have access to.  As a gay kid growing up, you get used to people’s nastiness, but what has grown increasingly obvious is that people in our government think that nastiness is okay, participate in it, and sponsor/vote for legislation that enshrines it.  I teach my students of the importance of the phrase, “WE THE PEOPLE…” I teach them how this is one of the most ingenious phrases in the world because it limits government by giving the people the power.  I like being American and the power that gives me.  That’s the most basic reason that this apolitical attitude is no longer acceptable to me.  I have realized that I have to use this power and I have to count on the people I love and care about to use theirs.  We need to reaffirm the ideas we teach our kindergarteners.  We are all special, we do all deserve to be treated fairly, and we do all deserve the opportunities to live, love, and be happy that are afforded every American.

A bit more esoteric way of thinking about this is really wrapped up in the most famous line from the Declaration of Independence.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  This gets to the core of why this apolitical position upsets me so much.  It is not about the 1,200+ benefits that married heterosexual couples in this country enjoy (okay, maybe it is a little bit) but it is more about the fact that I have been endowed by my Creator with certain inalienable rights and at least one of those is being denied me.  I do not have the right to pursue my happiness in the America of 2012.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am a white, middle-class man. [As such,] I have had a good life compared to what others have been born into both here and abroad.  I am well educated, loved by wonderful parents and have never really known hunger or poverty.  I have, however, known discrimination.  I have known what it is like to have a bottle thrown at me for holding the hand of the person I love.  I have known what it is like to be slammed into the lockers in the hallway every day as a peer mumbles “faggot” under his breath.  I have known what it is like to have to glance around to see who is looking before I give the person I love a kiss on the cheek.  I have known what it is like to have my spiritual leaders tell me that I am dammed, that my love is an abomination, and that I am less fit to be a parent than Snooki.  These things I have known and they suck. But I can handle them.  I know that society changes slowly and we are winning small battles every day.  What I am not okay with, and argue no one should be okay with, is government action that impinges on my pursuit of happiness.

Happiness is the crucial piece in this conversation.  In spite of all of this, I will never be truly happy and truly realize my dreams without the family I have imagined for as long as I can remember.  That is where our happiness is.  It is in the achievements and laughter and joy and tears of our families.  Yes, I know that a family does not hinge on legal recognition, but I also know that legal recognition is more than just a protection of freedoms and access to benefits and rights.  We recognize the family because it is the fundamental building block of our society.  All of the political rhetoric that exists right now on both sides of this debate and no one will deny this fact.  Love does not need legal recognition, but society does.  Society will never evolve if in the heart of what makes us a society discrimination and oppression exist. 

So, why is this election personal?  I have a good job, own my condo, have wonderful educational opportunities--so why am I not just content to wait?  Why am I not like the people (some of my own friends) I have seen that will probably vote but avoid the conversations, are busy during the rallies, or can’t be troubled to read or post politicized opinions in social media?  It’s personal because any group that has faced oppression and discrimination in this country has waited.  They have waited to be recognized for the full citizens that they are and then they were done waiting. Then they stood up with their friends and families and made the change happen.  I am tired of waiting.  I have achieved a lot but am still not complete and it saddens me that some people in my life don’t know that or can’t realize what it means to me to be a husband and a father.  I want my chance at achieving all the happiness I have dreamed of since I was 16 and mapping out how to get from math class to English class without having to pass the group of jocks who would perpetrate some act of violence against me each afternoon, all the while knowing in the back of my mind that someday I would be out of there.  Someday I would be free to be whatever I wanted to be. I am ready for that someday.

Bottom line:  Yes, it’s personal and if you can’t be bothered to empathize with the hurtfulness of this condition then I can’t be bothered with you.  I have a family to make and I will end this post with something I wrote a couple of nights ago after a newscast and a day that had been filled with some pretty vitriolic attacks from politicians and others.  I find on nights like that it helps to think about that someday that helped me get to English class.

To my beautiful son or daughter: 
I am writing this because I am not sure when, but I know someday it is going to be important that I make sure you know a couple things.  I think about you all the time and I know that you are going to be more than I can even imagine.  Your dad and I talk about you and we think about the things we will do together and we love you.  We used to laugh about this popular song that’s out now called “Call me Maybe.”  One of the verses goes, “Before you came into my life… I missed you so bad / I missed you so bad / I missed you so, so bad.”  We laughed because we were like how do you miss something before it is even in your life? Then I was thinking about writing this to you and I realized that’s how I feel about you.  I don’t even know you but I miss you. 
My entire life I have imagined what our lives will be like together someday.  In all of my saddest moments and even my happiest I have always known that someday, when your Dad and I had you, everything would be better.  I know that someday you’ll make the happy times happier.  You are our happiness.  Before you could read this, before you were even here with us your dad and I waited for the someday that we would be a family.  There are no more “somedays” to wait for anymore, we love you more than anything and we are so proud of you.

                                                                        Love, Dad

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Some thoughts about Labor.

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, the Homestead Strike, the Ludlow Massacre, the 40-hour workweek, child labor laws, and so many other events and achievements mark the history of the labor movement.  America’s greatness comes on the backs of the American worker.  There is a lot in our past and the comfort of our present that organized labor can be proud of, so what happens now?  Labor Day in 2012 is not what it was when in 1882 30,000 workers marched through the streets of New York City in observance of the first Labor Day.  As a member of a union and a high school social studies teacher I have found myself caught in an internal debate.  How can the Labor Movement remain relevant when it seems there is little willingness to evolve and adapt to a changing economy and society?

In the fall of 2011 I attended a conference for young union leadership.  It had the potential to be a great event bringing together the young energy of the labor movement to collaborate and galvanize our work and focus.  I did not find that to be the reality.  On the last night of the conference I attended a social event with another teacher I met earlier.  After the event we joined many others and went down to the hotel bar and continued to enjoy our company.  As we parted ways in the lobby I was drawn to a ruckus outside the hotel.  There in front of a nice hotel in the middle of Minneapolis at 3:00 am I was greeted by a mob of 100+ fellow labor leaders drunk, some with glasses still in hand, many shirtless, and screaming pro-labor chants.  I was stunned.  In the context of a constant barrage of media and political attacks and growing public discontent with organized labor this behavior has no place in the movement.  How did so many others of the “young leaders” not see this?  How did I find myself in this place, having taken time away from my classroom to be part of this event, and this is the closing note?

I left the conference fearful.  Organized labor needs to evolve, continue to address the needs of the worker, and adapt to an Internet driven global society.  Labor has legitimate battles to be fought.  The wave of popular sentiment against organized labor has left the American worker vulnerable to outsourcing, dramatic overhauls of pensions, and the loss of bargaining rights.  But Labor can’t do that without embracing the new realities of the American worker. 

Today’s American worker needs professional development combined with a fair and honest critique of their job performance in order to remain competitive and regain popular support.  We need to embrace the fact that we are the best in the world at what we do and behave accordingly.  There is no room in American popular culture for people who demand respect and professional wages to be dancing around in the street half-naked and drunk. 

It will be fascinating to see what plays out.  I know one thing; there is no sign that the political attacks on organized labor will let up any time soon.  So, unless popular sentiment can be swayed the American worker is in for a bumpy ride.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Here goes nothing...

I have been considering beginning a blog about my experiences teaching, learning, and the general state of public education in the United States for a long time.  I have finally been pushed to actually do it by some of my colleagues and a course I am enrolled in on educational technology.

So, to begin… I figured I would introduce myself and my vision for what you will find here.  I have been teaching for 12 years at an affluent suburban high school outside of Chicago.  I grew up not too far from where I am currently teaching with three younger brothers.  I attended Illinois Wesleyan University and majored in history with minors in German and secondary education.  From there I began teaching high school social studies.  I have two masters degrees and am now working on my doctorate in curriculum and instruction.  I teach because it is what I love, the best part of every day is when I am in my classroom and working with my students. 

So… now to blog… some of these posts will be identified as “Blog Post 1, 2, etc…” These posts are part of the educational technology course that I am in right now.  Some of the posts will just be made as part of my own professional development and learning.