Saturday, February 20, 2016

What is "Bad Language"?

I grew up in a household where it was often emphasized that bad language is immoral.

That is, it somehow reflects on a person's character, or even controls it.

Recently, I entered a place where vulgar language was common currency. People talked about the more delicate segments of human anatomy with a flippancy that would never be acceptable in most of my social circles.

It was weird, because I was enjoying the company of the people making these comments, and their words didn't seem in particularly bad taste because they treated each other with kindness, consideration, and an attitude of servanthood.

Unfortunately, my first impulse was to harbor a strange guilt. I shouldn't be okay with the way they're talking, I thought. It should offend me. It should make me uncomfortable.

The thing is, it did make me feel a little uncomfortable. I don't think at the root that it's respectful to talk about someone's anatomy without regard to their personhood. I think that talking this way is indicative of more deeply rooted attitudes that come out when the person speaks that way.

But what I realized is that language does not control the character of a person. It may be in many cases an outgrowth or a symptom of that person's character, but you are not going to change who they are by objecting to their use of certain words. 

It has always struck me as really pointless to label certain language as "bad." As a writer, especially as a poet, I understand that every word in every language can be used to convey effectively something that is important - or it can be used to convey clumsily something demeaning.

So while I might believe there are certain uses of language that are not helpful (like maybe that downplay the self of a person in favor of commenting on their physical, emotional, or sexual significance) to anybody, I don't believe there are any words that are just "bad."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Friday, February 12, 2016

I have a weird relationship with my career

Actually, it's not weird. I think it's pretty normal when you consider the vast majority of humans on this globe and how they feel about what they do on the daily.

But when you're a white middle class kid at a Christian college, it's sometimes a challenge not to feel like you're doing it wrong just because you haven't switched a hundred times out of anxiety that you don't have the "perfect" major, or that if there are other things you would love to be doing, you should be doing those instead because you're "not following your true passion." I feel insecure when someone says "you'll never work a day in your life if you do what you love."

It's just not true in all cases, guys. Sorry. It is a different story for everyone. Here's why that statement does not ring true for me. 

What I love is connecting with people. I love watching somebody's eyes open. I love becoming the mediating factor between a person and an important goal that was previously inaccessible. I love sharing the power of language with people who have only ever been criticized for the way they use it - or don't. I love crossing boundaries. I love learning from others, developing a community of understanding and curiosity.

So... teachers do that? Yup. Check.

What is difficult for me is being the person other people need me to be. This is a universal. I like to spend time by myself, doing what I want. I like to receive from people more than I like to give. I would rather learn than teach. If I could go to school my whole life, I would. Most people struggle with this degree of self-absorption and need to overcome it if they are going to make a contribution to the world around them.

Teachers in specific need to overcome personal interests in order to meet a need. That's not easy. That's work. It's rewarding, but it's definitely still work.

On a more personal level, I also struggle with practical considerations - I have great ideas all the time, but carrying them out by collecting materials, contacting interested parties, sharing my creative process with others - all these are major points of anxiety because they do not come naturally.

Let's enter the world of English Education for a little bit.

When I get thinking or talking about it, I love the program I've entered at this university. It honestly does not make a whole lot of sense sometimes. I am in two departments, one an applied science and the other an arm of the humanities.

Sometimes, the two departments fail to communicate and cooperate, and I have to make up for that and figure out how to recognize their differences. Sometimes I feel in-between because I don't entirely fit in with the education people but I also don't entirely fit in with the English people. Sometimes I even get a sense that I am betraying one or the other by being invested in both.

But that's ridiculous, and I don't need those doubts, because when it comes down to it my areas of study intersect in really important ways and allow me to explore different - and equally important - sides of the world, or of myself.

If I want to be effective, I am required to be educated about current empirical research in my field; to meet objective standards at every level of authority; to have a sense of physical space so that I know how to lay out my classroom and put everything in it that needs to be there; to know implicitly all of the objective skills involved in rhetoric, grammatical correctness, and literature analysis; to be prepared for emergency medical issues, mental health issues, administrative issues, transportation problems, and scheduling conflicts; to carefully time my grading, preparation, professional development, and communication with parents and students so that I can balance it all without becoming overwhelmed; to maintain a working knowledge of technology as it continues to develop.

The "B.S." in front of my degree largely represents these more objective aspects of the career I am entering. There is also a much more personal, intuitive, and compassion-related side.

Good teachers desperately need to understand the psychology and social situation of the people they work with and the areas in which they live; they are good community members, they contribute, they share, they learn from each other, they develop good teamwork skills so that they can bring harmony to the school they are a part of; they perform as the responsible and mature teacher every day, every hour, while maintaining a degree of genuineness and personality with students.

And of course, they must have a deeply rooted belief in the potency of the skills they teach.

Social studies teachers know that when you find out about the broader timeline of the world and your geographical surroundings, you understand how you are linked to the world and its people, and you gain a leverage point into making it a better place.

Science teachers know that curiosity, precision and cooperation in the common interest of humanity are vital components in developing an environment that's beautiful, stimulating and healthful for everyone.

Math teachers know that wonder about the organization of the universe is essential for becoming immersed in any subject and that thinking through complex problems sharpens your mind to apply to a variety of situations.

And I know that language is where everything begins.

In the end, I might struggle as a teacher, because of logistics, because of students who make me want to cry, because of administrative restrictions (the more I hear about Common Core the more I shake in my stereotypical teacher shoes).

But it will be worth it, because I will have a chance to go into a room every day, meet the young American world in all its forms, and dialogue with these people who are becoming who they are and struggling for words to explain it to others, to themselves, and to take in input that helps them understand who and where and what they are.

The classroom is where it all begins. If family and early environment is the primary indicator of a person's trajectory in life, school experience is the second. Every kid has to go to school, and every school keeps them in small rooms and hallways for eleven hours a day.

That is a powerful amount of time. Let's make it worthwhile for them.

I don't see that as a burden, even though it means an unbelievable amount of work; I see it as a privilege.

I cannot speak for every field, although I wish I could - I wish I could know and understand everyone's passions and be well-versed in them - but it seems to me that more than any other career, that of teaching combines subjective and objective interests, blends the mind into the heart, the physical and professional self with the spiritual, emotional, social self.

It demands, and allows, the person who steps into the role of teacher to be steadfast, but also flexible - unbiased, but also deeply concerned with the interests of others.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Holden and Douglas: Being Them, Teaching Them

I'm here because I want to talk about The Catcher in the Rye, because every time I pick it up I read a few sentences, and that's enough to
make me want to cry.

I think that I identified with this book the first time around (junior year of high school) because of how much Holden judges his surroundings and finds them lacking - he feels like a victim of circumstances, and he is extremely harsh and critical, looking at external details and fitting them into the perception he is constructing of the world, and becoming very jaded by what he finds.

His perspective is not helpful to him, and he constantly talks about how he is feeling and what his preferences are, but he doesn't do it with any sort of understanding. He is confused and believes the world exists to throw him in and out of chaos, and that his only mechanism for survival is to define himself and isolate himself.

His only real friend is his hat (although it is a good friend. It keeps his ears warm. Do your friends do that?)

It's interesting, because I expected to find myself somewhere along the spectrum of normal reactions to this book: either disgust at Holden's attitude and the viciousness of the narration, or agreement with it because of a similar perception.

I've been in both places at this point, and hopefully wise enough to know why one is beneficial and the other harmful.

My objective in reading this narrative now is to understand Holden. I am incorporating his viewpoint and its causes, along with those of Douglas Spaulding from Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, into my senior project (at least, I am hoping to; it feels very fragmented right now and I'm stressed about it).

My job is to argue that these writers show adolescents as a product of their environments.

The career I am building right now is all about understanding adolescents like Douglas, who are contributors to their communities and find joy in this, and those who isolate themselves because the world seems so unfriendly to them, like Holden.

These books are important to me because they reflect every person's struggle to enter this world: the ways that this struggle can be healthy and facilitated by the environment, and the ways that it can be difficult and painful and make us want to give up.

I am Holden, and I am Douglas, and I want to spend the rest of my life helping both of them through this transition by teaching them to do what they do in their respective novels - processing the world around them through symbols and narrative.

So, now that I've hashed out the reasons for the heart-wrench I get every time I pick up Catcher... back to my own struggle. That is, back to looking up critical articles on these books and failing miserably to find anything useful.

Wishing you well.