Thursday, July 5, 2018

Day 528 – Letter to the American People: A Parable of Two Boy Scouts. And a Guy With A Lizard.

Dear friends,
This is a true story.
Two Boy Scouts, both third graders, were volunteering at a park cleanup event. They were weeding the gardens and planting flowers and discussing the many Pokemon players wandering throughout the park. One of the people who caught their attention was a man, in his mid-twenties, with a foot-long lizard clinging to his shirt.
The boys were enthralled.
“Did you see that guy?” they whispered. “See his lizard? Check out that guy with the lizard! I wonder why he’s got a lizard with him in the park!”
One of the boys, the long-haired one, said, “Let’s go check it out! I wanna ask him about the lizard!”
A second boy shook his head adamantly. “No,” he stage-whispered. “No, we can’t go bother him. He’ll get mad. He doesn’t want to be bothered by us.” The rest of the troop held back. No one was willing to take the lead.
The long-haired boy responded, “But the guy literally has a lizard on his shirt. He is walking around the park with a giant lizard. He knows people are going to see him and want to ask questions. He wouldn’t be playing Pokemon with a lizard on his shirt in the park if he didn’t want to be noticed.”
And so the long-haired boy led the way. He went up to the lizard guy. The rest of the troop followed. “Excuse me, sir,” the long-haired boy said, “but can we see your lizard?”
The man smiled. He said, “Sure!” And he proceeded to let the boys pet the lizard while he told them all about it. The boys spent 10 minutes with the lizard guy, learning all about lizards and how to train them and feed them and hold them and exercise them.
When the boys came back to the gardening, they were chattering non-stop about the lizard guy and his lizard. “So cool!” they said. “His lizard’s name is Toothless!”
And an hour later, when they exclaimed that they had found a snake, the lizard guy overheard them. He came back over, helped them pick up the snake, and gave them another 10 minute education on garter snakes and their markings, their mating habits, their lifecycles, and how to help preserve their habitats.
This is a story about two boys, both Boy Scouts, with vastly different world views. How did they grow up to the wise old age of 9 with such different ways to function in the world? The long-haired boy is from a liberal family, raised without organized religion. The other boy is from a very conservative family, raised with strict adherence to religion. But both boys are white, middle class, with highly educated parents. Both boys have been raised with a strict moral code. Both boys have the world at their fingertips, and only need to ask.
Yet, this second boy, the conservative one, has been raised to fear. Fear the stranger. Fear the conversation. Fear the unknown. And his fear has caused him to misread situations and sense danger when none exists. He saw the lizard guy as a potential threat to be avoided. The long-haired boy, curious about everything and raised to see people as generally good and full of knowledge and experience, saw the lizard guy as an ally. An opportunity. A guy just walking his lizard, playing Pokemon in the park on a beautiful summer day.
The parable of the two Boy Scouts should give us pause.
How do we see the world? How do we see others? How do we approach them? When and why do we fear? What can we do to overcome this? And how are we raising our children?
If we live in fear of the unknown, we begin to see each other as dangerous. We avoid conversations. We avoid interactions. We live in our bubble of fear. And because of this, we will never meet the lizard guy and his lizard, Toothless. We will never learn about the garter snake and how they have babies and what they eat for lunch. We will never take the risk to talk to a stranger in the park and learn about his passions.
And we will live our lives shortchanging our own experiences.
Creating our own filter bubbles.
Isolated.
Afraid of the unknown.
Just think about what our lives—and our country—could be like, if we all took the opportunity and made friends with the lizard guy?
Sincerely,
Sharon Murchie
(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Day 501 – Letter to Middle Class America: Have You Ever Been Truly Hungry?


Middle Class America: Have you ever been truly hungry?

Dear Middle Class America:

Last Friday, as our president prematurely exuberated over his jobs numbers, were you eating a solid breakfast? Did you have a roof over your head? Were your lights on? Was your A/C running? Did you then drive in your reliable car out of your middle class suburb to your middle class job? Did you curse at the traffic? Did you stop for coffee? Did you think about what it was like to work one of those minimum-wage jobs, trying to somehow make ends meet, keep the lights on, and feed your kids?

Did it occur to you that those employment numbers the president tweeted about don’t actually mean that the people working those jobs can afford to pay rent? Or go to the doctor when they’re sick? Or eat?

According to the United Way ALICE project:
Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash

Nearly 51 million households [43% of American Households] don't earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone.”

16.1 Million households in our country live in poverty. Another 34.7 million families are “ALICE”: Asset Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed.” They are gainfully employed, playing by the rules, trying to live the American Dream...and yet they don’t earn enough to support a bare-bones household budget.

The growth of our economy shouldn’t be measured by the rise and fall of the stock market. It should be measured by the ability of working Americans to afford their homes, feed their families, and keep them healthy and safe.

So, Middle Class America: as you eat your dinner tonight, flip on the lights, turn up the A/C, and ask your kids about their day...think about what it means to be hungry—really and truly hungry. Think about what it feels like to not be able to feed your kids. Think about what we need to do, as a country, to take care of our working poor.

Because our economy? It’s not working. And it won’t be working until we, as a nation, can afford to feed our families. All of them.

Sincerely,

Sharon Murchie

(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.)

Friday, June 1, 2018

The scream becomes a yawn...

(when we are not inspired)



I have a discussion board synthesis essay (and two meaningful comments) due in Blackboard by midnight tonight for my doctoral program.

I am not inspired.

The topic doesn’t inspire me.

The other students’ discussions don’t inspire me.

I have to write this essay.

I am looking around the room at my own students, as they write their practice timed SAT literary analysis essay.

I have my favorite Facebook teacher group (2ndaryELA) pulled up on my phone.

We teachers are all noticing the same thing: our students’ writing is not inspired. They are just phoning it in, day after day. They are passively writing mundane pieces with no voice, no passion, and very little thought. The Facebook group is lamenting the soul-crushing student essay—the one that crushes our teacher souls—the one that we read thousands of every single year.

Why don’t our students care about Paul Bogard’s “Let There Be Dark” essay enough to write passionately (in 50 minutes) about the rhetorical moves he makes?

Why must they crush our souls with their soulless discussion (written in 50 minutes) of the former US President Jimmy Carter’s Foreword to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, A Photographic Journey by Subhankar Banerjee?
They are not inspired.

The topic doesn’t inspire them.

The other students’ discussions don’t inspire them.

They have to write this essay.

Somewhere, in the maelstrom of all of this SAT and AP testing, we have lost our souls and jeopardized theirs.

The Metric lyric echoes in my head.


I desperately want to solve this problem. Find the solution. Touch the souls of my students. Get my own soul back.

But I can’t fix it tonight.

I have a discussion board synthesis essay (and two meaningful comments) due in Blackboard by midnight.

I yawn. I’ll carry on.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Day 474 – Letter to Melania: Please, Let’s Just “Be Better.”

Dear Melania,
Yesterday, speaking as a mother and as First Lady, you unveiled your “Be Best” campaign “to educate children about the many issues they are facing today.” Your speech focused on the “social, emotional, and physical health” of children, and promoted “well-being, social media use, and opioid abuse.” A grammar quick rule (for future reference) is that items in a series should use parallel construction: each item in the series should follow the same pattern. As you can see, your campaign statement promoting well-being is coherent, but promoting social media use is somewhat confusing, and promoting opioid abuse is perhaps counterintuitive. Also, “be best” isn’t an actual sentence in English.
Image from Independent
However, I know what you meant even if it isn’t what you said. So I’ll let the grammar lesson go and focus on your intentions. (And your intentions are good.) But Melania, here’s the thing: we are not ready to be [the] best quite yet. Right now, we need to simply be better.
You spoke of “social and self-awareness, positive relationship skills, and responsible decision-making” and the need to teach our children to “communicate openly with one another and instill positive feelings of mutual respect, compassion, and self-esteem.”
Melania, this is an area where we can truly be better. I might suggest that the White House is an excellent place to start. We can teach our leaders—even our President—how to build positive relationships and communicate with mutual respect and compassion. Instead of belittling, name-calling, mocking, and insulting, let’s be better. Let’s build relationships, not walls. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Imagine how much better we could be.
You also said that we need to “teach our children the difference between right and wrong.”
Melania, this is another area where we can truly be better! It is so elementary: lying is wrong. Telling the truth is right. Let’s teach our president and his followers how to tell the truth! Coercion and collusion are wrong. Cooperation and self-control are right. Think of how much better our lives could be if our leaders knew the difference between right and wrong.
You said that “when children learn positive online behaviors early on, social media can be used in productive ways and can affect positive change.” And you said, “when they are using their voices, whether verbally or online, they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion.”
Melania, this is brilliant! Let’s do this together! Let’s insist that our president learn positive online behaviors, use social media in productive ways, and affect positive change! If only he would choose his words wisely and speak with respect and compassion. If only he could be better. Imagine all the good he could do!
And finally, Melania, you said that successful recovery programs treat “the whole family” and infants can thrive “because parents are also given the support and tools needed to recover and succeed.” You said, “I hope that together we can be best at helping children and families find effective ways to educate themselves and support each other.”
This is an area where we could be so much better. Imagine how the children in our country could thrive, if we supported all families in their times of need. Imagine living in a country where poverty was rare, not the norm. Imagine living in a country where every family had food on the table, and where every child had a safe home and a warm bed. Imagine how our entire country could thrive if we actually took care of each other-—of everyone—and excelled in support instead of judgment.
Melania, I believe that we can be better. Imagine if we insisted that our president be better. Imagine if we demanded that our leaders be better. Imagine a country led by people who communicated with respect and compassion, knew right from wrong, and believed that, given the support and tools they needed, all families could recover and succeed.
We simply can’t begin to “be best” if we haven’t begun to be better.
Let’s demand that our country be better. Are you in?
Sincerely,
A Mother and English Teacher

(originally posted at Letters2Trump.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Day 446 – Letter to Betsy DeVos: We Need to Talk About Standardized Testing

Dear Betsy,
Can I call you Betsy? I feel like I know you. After all, we’re from the same state. I’ve been in buildings with your name on it hundreds of times. I’ve used Amway products; I’ve taught in a charter school. Even though my entire house could fit inside your first floor bathroom, I feel like we should be able to talk woman-to-woman. After all, we want what is best for kids, right? I’m a teacher; you’re the United States Secretary of Education. We are both in it for our students, not for corporate profit. Right?
So, here’s what we need to talk about: the way I just spent my day. You see, I just spent 4 ½ hours proctoring the SAT to my students. After that, they went home. Tomorrow I will spend another 3 hours proctoring the ACT WorkKeys to my students. Then they will go home. And Thursday, I will proctor the rest of the M-Step to my students. And then they will go home.
Image from Mental Floss
Three full days. Three full days where “teaching” means reading an instruction manual on how to successfully fill in bubbles with no stray marks. Three full days where “teaching” means hoping the kids remember to eliminate the wrong answers before they choose the answer that is left so they get a high enough score that our district isn’t in danger of state takeover. Three full days where “learning” means reading incredibly boring passages, answering meaningless and out-of-context multiple choice questions, and writing an essay that serves no academic or career purpose whatsoever. Three full days where “learning” means high levels of anxiety about a gateway test that is used to keep our students out of colleges. Three full days where my students know and I know (and you’d know if you did some research) that the only thing being measured is their own socioeconomic status and the educational level of their moms.

This, of course, is only representative of the junior year of mandatory testing in our state. I haven’t even mentioned the hours we lost to “pre-administration” bubble filling, and the entire elective students lost so that they could do focused SAT prep for an entire semester. But our students are drowning in standardized tests almost every single year, K-12. 20-25 hours a yearis devoted to standardized testing; on average, students take over 100 standardized tests by the time they graduate high school. Much of the content is developmentally inappropriate. All of the content is soul-crushingly boring. And yet, our teachers and students are forced to spend days weeks months prepping for these tests, regardless of what the students really need.
What could have been taught in all of those lost hours? What could have been learned?
You recently told Oklahoma teachers who were striking for better teaching and learning conditions that they should “serve the students that are there to be served.” You told them that you, personally, “think about the kids.”
Well, I am thinking about the kids. And the only thing I get to serve them this week is more standardized tests. Tests that are meant to keep them out. Tests that are used to measure my own effectiveness as a teacher. Tests that are used at all levels to pit our schools against each other. Tests that will now be used to limit our students’ opportunity to advance to the 4th grade. Tests that measure everything but the things these students really need: safe learning environmentshigh quality and up-to-date resourcessound infrastructure, and teachers who are allowed to do the job they are highly trained and highly qualified to do: teach.
Sincerely,
Sharon Murchie
English teacher
(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.) 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

3.14.18

Today, I was proud to be a teacher. I was proud to watch 3000+ schools participate in a National School Walkout to protest gun violence and to commemorate the victims of school shootings.
Today, I was incredibly proud of our Bath High School students as over 200 of them walked in a silent vigil to remember lives lost from gun violence in our schools. They weren't chatting. They weren't on their phones. They weren't horsing around. Some of them were holding hands. Some of them were carrying signs. And all of them were silent. Reflective. Respectful.
There were tears, including mine.
There is fear, including mine.
These kids don't deserve to be afraid.
These kids don't deserve to be belittled for their desire to go to school in safety.
These kids don't deserve the implication that if they simply "walk up," gun violence will go away, as if these kids somehow deserve school shootings. As if being nice will eliminate school shootings.
These kids deserve to be heard. They are asking for the adults to do something.
Perhaps we could stop telling them what to do and stop talking over them for a minute and simply listen.
Perhaps we could be silent.

Reflective.
Respectful.
Perhaps.

Day 417 – Letter to Americans Who Believe that Video Games Cause Mass Shootings

Dear Americans who think video games cause mass shootings,

I know that our country doesn’t always like to believe in science, but it’s time we stop debating this ridiculous myth and start dealing with the actual causal issues instead.
Video games do cause a lot of things. They often cause us to be more isolated; they may make us more aggressive in the short-term. They definitely cause us to waste a lot of time. They sometimes cause us to eat too much and live in our moms’ basements. They may have indirectly caused my divorce. But they do not cause teenage white males to go out and shoot up their local schools.
Let’s conduct a thought experiment.
Let’s set up a hypothetical scenario with two countries, identical in all aspects, save 2 distinct differences.
Country A gives their children unlimited access to all the video games they want, whenever they want, for as long as they want. Country A has very limited access to guns with very strict regulations.
Country B loves their guns. They fetishize their guns, they ban federal funding of research on gun violence, and they have very lax gun regulations and many loopholes. Thankfully, Country B has very limited access to violent video games.
Let’s say that this hypothetical scenario runs for 5 years.
At the end of 5 years, how many young white men in Country A wandered into their local schools and shot as many of their peers as possible? How many school shootings happened in a country with very strict gun regulations but unlimited access to all of those terrible, violent video games?
How about in Country B? How many mass shootings occurred with unfettered access to all those guns, but thankfully no violent video games to stir up any aggression?
In simple terms: If Johnny can’t play video games but can play with real guns and real bullets, how many real people could he possibly shoot?
Unregulated and fetishized access to guns does.
Sincerely,
Sharon Murchie
(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Day 388 - Letter to Those Who Have Recently Learned that Someone They Respect Has Been Accused of Terrible Things

Dear newly aware,

At some point in our lives, we will all have to deal with the unfortunate and uncomfortable situation of learning that someone we love and admire or respect has been accused of doing terrible things. For many of us, this moment occurred when someone we admired fell from grace, whether it was Bill Cosby or Louis CK or Al Franken. For others, we’ve had to deal with learning that a parent or loved one has done terrible things. For all of us, it would be timely to learn what to do and what not to do.


As has been his M.O. throughout the last year (and throughout his entire life), President Trump has shown us exactly what NOT to do or say. When discussing disgraced top aide Rob Porter, who is credibly accused of having physically and emotionally abused his two ex-wives and a former girlfriend, President Trump made the following statement:


Image from Vox
We wish him well; he worked very hard. We found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well, and it's a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent, so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job when he was at the White House.”
The President then tweeted:
Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process? — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018
So, as a Public Service Announcement of what NOT to say, we offer the following tutorial...
Instead of saying this: “We wish him well; he worked very hard. We found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him.”
SAY THIS: “For everybody asking, I know and like [him]. I won’t defend him. This is inexcusable and he needs to address it.”
Instead of saying this: “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now.”
SAY THIS: “He wielded his power with women in messed-up ways; I could couch this with heartwarming stories of our friendship and what a great [person] he is, but that’s totally irrelevant, isn’t it? Yes, it is.”
Instead of saying this: “But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now.”
SAY THIS:  “The only people that matter right now are the victims. They are victims, and they’re victims because of something he did.”
Instead of saying this: “He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you have to talk to him about that.”
Instead of saying this: “We absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job when he was at the White House.”
SAY THIS: “It’s vital that people are held accountable for their actions, no matter who they are. We need to be better. We will better. I can’t [expletive] wait to be better.”
And finally, instead of saying this: “People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
SAY THIS: “Misogyny is a cancer. Harassment and abuse are that cancer metastasizing and going untreated. Stories like this being reported and printed are the first steps toward a cure.”
TL;DR: If your loved ones or those you respect and admire have been accused of misconduct, do not, under any circumstance, say anything that would ever come out of the president’s mouth. He is the prime example of what never to do or say.
In summary: We have to be better. We need to be better. WE MUST BE BETTER. We can’t [expletive] wait any longer to be better.
Sincerely,
Letters2Trump
P.S. Special thanks to Sarah Silverman, Michael Ian Black, Adam Horovitz, and Michael Schur for their words and example.

(Originally posted at Letters2Trump.)

Monday, February 5, 2018

We Need our Heroes to be Leaders

The rollercoaster of doublethink that MSU students, fans, and alumni are on is extreme, a millenium force of anger and rage and disgust and relief...and we have lost our equilibrium. We are filled with disgust as the details of Larry Nassar’s perversions and assaults fill our newsfeed and airwaves. We celebrate and excuse the loss of control of one of our own fathers, as we sit in full agreement with his actions, although we acknowledge that he was in contempt of court. We withhold judgment, knowing that he represents the horror we can’t even imagine, forgiving him the momentary indiscretion, and raising $32,000.00 in gofundme donations to pay for his non-existent legal fees. These girls are our girls, and we are right there with you, dad. When the judge said, “There is no way that this court is going to issue any type of punishment given the circumstances of this case," we raised our fists in solidarity.


We demanded and celebrated the resignations of Lou Anna Simon and Mark Hollis, and we now recoil in horror at the new appointees and their lack of any experience or ability to help MSU not just rise from the ashes but actually do better and be better. We demand that the trustees, especially tone-deaf Joel Ferguson, step down. We shake our heads as leader after leader just doesn’t get it. We put our MSU gear on the hanger in the back of the closet, hoping that someday we can bring it out again and wear it with pride. We miss our MSU nation; we grieve the glorious illusion that it was truly great.


Our University has let us down. Our leadership did not lead. Our coaches looked the other way. Our doctors supported their own, instead of listening to the young women, who told the truth over and over and over again. Larry Nassar could have been stopped 20 years ago, but the people we trusted to keep our athletes safe instead put our young people in danger. Our adults gave Larry Nassar the benefit of the doubt over and over again. He got his due process so many times, that it was no longer a fact-finding process; it was simply a stamp of approval and support so that he could continue his perversion and continue to assault and abuse those who he vowed to help.


But when our revered coaches are put in the spotlight? We recoil. We demand due process. We doubt the allegations. We point out that the accused deny any wrongdoing. We point out the amazing feats that our coaches have accomplished, the pride and acclaim they have brought, the good, the absolute good that they have done for so many of our young people for so many years. After all, our coaches didn’t abuse anyone. They are not Larry Nassar. The names Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio should never be uttered in the same breath as that monster Larry Nassar.


We don’t even see the cognitive dissonance. We can’t stomach the idea that these men deserve the same scrutiny as those who allowed Larry Nassar to exist and persist.


Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio have earned their positions because they are heroes. They take boys from across the country, and they train them to be highly skilled, intuitive, authentic, conscientious sports stars. They are both parent and idol, disciplinarian and cheerleader, the benevolent warriors that are iconic of our MSU nation.


But if we demand that our leaders lead or step down, we must also demand that our heroes do the same. I have no doubt that Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio are quality men, perhaps even great men. But quality leaders stand up for what is right. They speak out when there is wrongdoing, and then admit when they have done wrong. If MSU is to heal and move forward, Izzo and Dantonio are in the unique position to show us how. They cannot hide. There are thousands, even millions of eyes watching them. We want them to succeed; we want them to be the heroes we believe they are. We want them to be the heroes that we need. But we cannot excuse the fact that there may have been bad things happening on their watch. We cannot pretend that young men on basketball teams and football teams deserve more credibility and support than their alleged victims. We cannot recoil in horror at the fate that befell so many of our young female gymnasts and then shake our finger at ESPN for pointing out that MSU has a sexual assault problem and a credibility problem.


We need our heroes. But more than that, we need our heroes to be credible. We can have empathy for the frustration, distraction, self-doubt, and sadness that our heroes are currently facing. But we also must demand that they step up and face the media...and us. The media is simply doing their job. MSU leaders simply and repeatedly did not do their jobs. Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio, what will you do? We need you to be our heroes. We need you to be transparent and honest. We need you to admit to any mistakes or missteps, and we need you to help us navigate this disaster and begin to heal. You may not have signed up for this particular part of your job, but it is the role that you now have been given.

We have to hold our heroes to the same fire that we hold those who we despise. We can only hope that this fire will forge stronger heroes, ones who will authentically and honestly help MSU become the university it should have been and might someday actually be.