Saturday, April 23, 2011

Two Questions: Miss O' Responds



So let's start with the first of only two questions, this one from Miss O's cousin in Cali:

Dear Ms. O,
In your professional opinion do children really need an education, I mean, come on, they spend their lives studying and end up working as a receptionist at a winery. Schooling, schmooling...
Haggard Homeschooler

Dear HagHooler:

Miss O' feels your existential pain. Yes, she does. How often has she asked herself this very question? Really, when you get down to it, why do anything? We're all just going to die.

Actually, I think our Aunt Mary said it best. In fact, she said it so well, I turned it into a haibun, a Japanese poetic form involving a title, a prose paragraph, and a closing haiku, to wit:


The morning after the big family reunion, Aunt Mary stares at me
across the kitchen table as Uncle Terry cooks breakfast.
“What’s the point?” she asks. “I mean, you get up in the morning,
have some coffee, go to work, come home, nothin’ on TV that night
so you make a kid. I looked around at all those people and I realized, half of this is my fault.” She pauses as if to puff on the cigaretteshe no longer smokes. “Let’s have some bacon.”

                                                         philosophy with toast
                                                         you answer your own question
                                                         laughter sizzling in the pan

And Aunt Mary, your question is well-taken: What's the point? 

Bacon. Crisp, delicious, "that pig didn't die in vain" bacon for breakfast, that is the goddamned point. And Aunt Mary's laughter. Oh, the laughter.

        What is the point of schooling?  1) The more you know, the funnier everything is, especially The Simpson's. 2) Man is planet Earth's only way of knowing about planet Earth; art, science, and proof of knowing: these are our major, possibly only, contributions to life on Earth. (I think the capacity to love is a universal among the creatures. But the other critters can't do physics, at least on paper. Or paint like Rossetti.) That, to me, is pretty much it, but let me give some examples.  

        I was forever telling my high school kids that the more educated your are, the funnier everything is: TV, movies, books, everything they encounter, to say nothing of "more beautiful." I'd explain how to watch a typical episode of The Simpson's,and for me "A Streetcar Named Marge" is perfection: If you know about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism (mentioned in an earlier blog post), and you see the throwaway gag of the daycare sign, "Ayn Rand School for Tots," you will fall of the sofa. If you know Tennessee William's gorgeous American tragedy, A Streetcar Named Desire, and see the closing dance number of Springfield's musical version Streetcar!: "I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Strangers," you'll wet yourself.

        Why invite all this soiling and bruising? Because it stems from laughter. You could not, would not laugh without knowing the allusions.

       But don't believe me. Let's ask a girl I'll call Ashley. 

SCENE: Miss O's classroom ca. 1998. We'd just finished the unit on Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

ASHLEY: Um, Miss O', you know how you are always telling us how stuff is funnier if you, you know, read stuff? Okay. I get it now. I totally get it.

MISS O': Talk to me.

ASHLEY: Okay, so last night I was watching a rerun of Friends--you know that show? Okay, well this was the one about how Joey and Chandler get the baby duck and the baby chick to celebrate Easter--they buy them at the pet store, you know, because they are so cute. And Phoebe tells them, "You know, they aren't going to stay little and cute forever. What are you going to do when they get bigger?" And they are like, we hadn't thought about that. And Joey asks, "what can we do," and Phoebe is like, "you have to give them lots of love." So Joey holds the baby duck close and says, "I'll love you, I'll love you," and Chandler goes, "Okay, Lennie." 

MISS O': [laughs]

ASHLEY: See? I laughed, too, you know? And my mom and dad and sister just look at me and go, "Why are you laughing?" And I couldn't explain it. But it was so funny!

MISS O': Ashley, won't you please tell that story for the class? Oh, thank you.

BRIAN: Miss O'?

MISS O": Yes, Brian?

BRIAN: Um, is that Looney 'Toons cartoon, you know the one with the giant dog, who grabs Bugs Bunny and says, "I'll hug him and squeeze that Lennie?"

MISS O': [nods, grins] Yep. It's so mean.

CLASS: Oh! Dag! I didn't know what that was, oh, dag, I seen that...


Miss O', This is All Very Well, but I Still Work in a Winery, Even with All My Education

          My dad, Bernie, is a high school drop out and retired meat cutter. My mom, Lynne, is a cum laude graduate with a major in English and a minor in Spanish, who was in the Navy and later managed a book store.  My mom's love of books has given my dad a joy in reading he never thought possible; my dad's pool-sharking days and natural way with a story have given my mom not only laughs but an experience of a life different from her own, and I think greater empathy. My dad's instinct for emotional reaction has been tempered with more rational approaches because of the reading.

      They had four kids, and my dad has two more, and here we all are and I am editing text books and writing this blog and acting in comedy clubs and I used to teach school and direct plays. LIVING is education, but your question is about formal education. After all, my parents had very similar adult lives when one was far more formally educated than the other, so what's the point? The point is that learning keeps going, keeps getting reimagined, reused, reinvented, deepened, broadened, with every encounter. Mom and Dad fed each other--life experience, book experience, it all counts.

       That said, you don't need formal schooling to know that every job can be fun if you make it that way. You find the humor, the way to make it work. And after a grueling day of working all those different kinds of jobs to keep the big damn world going, isn't it lovely to read a book, watch a show, look at a well-planted garden, a beautiful sky, each experience deepened with some understanding of how it all came about? It's about living a complete life, I think. The more you know, the richer it is. 

        Anyway, that's what I think. And I didn't once mention politics. How about that?

Next Question!

Dedicated blog reader and former student and writer Vanessa asks:

Dear Miss O',

As a parent of a first grader, what are a few of the most important things that PARENTS can do to help teachers? After all, we're the ones who have the kids that you teach, so what can we do to make your lives easier?

Dear Vanessa, as I assume you don't mind me publishing:

           How very thoughtful of you to ask. The very idea that you ask tells me you really don't need the answer I'm giving. Good job! Still, I'm going to do a list. It's incomplete. And I have never had a baby nor have I wanted one, though I love people like crazy. So parents are my personal heroes, and I don't know shit about how to parent, in the "I love them" sense, but I do know how to parent in the "this is something you need to think about, kid" sense. (There is an important place in the world for childless adults, in that objective role.) That said, I know what I want in a classroom, so here's what I'd say.

1) Love your children. And be glad of their gender, body type, hair texture, eye color, all of it, and grateful for all the health they have. 

2) Don't assume you can know everything your kids will need to know. Listen.

3) Don't feel you have to control and filter and explain everything your children encounter. If they don't ask, honor the silence. It is called "processing." Listen.

4) When your kids do ask to know something, it means they want to know it. Tell them. Whether it's Santa Claus or what death is or where babies come from. You don't have to go all clinical and deep. Just please say something that is at least not an all-out denial. That's all a teacher asks. Listen.

5) Remind yourself that you got where you are by learning stuff, ready or not. Kids are resilient. 

6) Listen. Listen. Listen. 

7) LAUGH. A lot. Laugh at yourself. Teach your kids to laugh at themselves. 

8) Remember that your child is a precious, creative, joyful, energetic, curious being.

9) Remember that your child is a manipulative, sneaky, lying, bratty, whiny, pain in the ass.

10) EXPECT any kind of behavior. REWARD the good stuff and mean it. PUNISH the bad stuff and mean it. LISTEN to figure out the sources of all of the behavior as best you can. 

10a) I am serious about the goddamned punishing and meaning it. Your kids will always love you. Always. They will HATE you sometimes. That is FINE. Follow-through of a promised punishment (no TV, no allowance, what have you) is the SINGLE most important help you can give to a teacher, after the loving and listening and laughing stuff. Follow-through creates SECURITY. Limits are safety.

11) Please know this: Your kids' teachers DO NOT have it in for your kid. We are too goddamned tired. How much more narcissistic could you be? Jesus.

12) It's okay for your kids to have teachers they don't like much, as long as there's no abuse. We have to learn to get along with everyone. And in spite of. (I wrote about my own experiences earlier.)

13) Introduce your kids to as many grown-ups, kids, places, nature, foods, books, languages, and situations as you possibly can before they head to first grade. Just let it BE. You don't have to explain everything, or use every encounter as one of those obnoxious "teaching moments." Being is nice sometimes. After first grade, keep doing that. Listen to what they are learning in school, and then relate it to your life at home and in the world as soon as it makes sense. With humor.

14) Is this helpful?

That's all the time we have. Miss O' has a reading of her friend's play and a performance (she plays herself, sort of) of "Alky" tonight at the Broadway Comedy Club. That should inspire confidence in what I'm writing, huh?

Until next time!
P.S. Since yesterday's publishing, I've edited a bit. I also want to talk about "being": New York has become a hub of "helicopter parents," parents who spend all their time with their kids pointing things out, in constant narrative, explaining every encounter, asking quiz questions, trying to tell their kids about every little thing. I've watched some beautiful subway reveries interrupted by a well-meaning dad or mom who feels they aren't "engaging" enough or something, who shake their child out of the concentrated stare at the gorgeous bag and the woman attached to it by trying to "engage" them, and it makes me sad. Not only for the kid, but for the loss of my own reverie in watching the child watch the other woman. You know? What's wrong with quiet? stillness? thought? Lost art, daydreaming, now that we have these little devices to numb us. 

1 comment:

  1. Well said Miss'O! I particularly leaned in on the parenting for teacher bit... thank you for sharing your experiences with teaching and with kids!

    Looking forward to more educational posts and dealing with the chillins.