Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm bemused at myself that twitter feeds/drains whatever built-up need I have to blurt snark or witticisms--the length constraints are likely a boon to my long-winded ass. I don't see blogging as quick-spew, yet I don't really sit down to compose essay-esque materials, either. Writer manque, eternally, I guess. Been inching into/through the endlessly uncompleted book on firefighting, emergency service, and civic service. Trying to figure a balance between dry stuff vs. the literally flesh-&-blood tales from the job. Also, I really wrestle with trying to convey the cyclical nature of our job (shift work, calls, fires, etc) as well as the profound LACK of closure or narrative arc to the work: we show up after something (bad) has started, try to restore order to the chaos, then leave w/o knowing full effects of both the event & our ministrations. Which works against nominal narrative structure. But I need to get a draft of this done so I can (finally) stop thinking about trying to get a draft of it done, if only to look at the mess and throw it up in the air...

I was at the kids' school for something the other day, parental volunteering for a class project (no, not the nude study in art class), and I was with two sections (21 kids @) over two-plus hours, with six other parents, all mothers. My schedule allows that. I like that the school encourages kids to think and express themselves, etc. but there is a definite, worrying undercurrent by a vocal minority of parents who genuinely state, 'I want my kid to feel empowered and good about him/herself--that's more important than being challenged academically.'

We don't pay this much money for the kids to be told how great they are. It's not mutually exclusive, of course, but academic rigor IS a good thing. Otherwise children slide by thinking they are great and fall flat on their faces first time something doesn't go well or they get challenged by someone didn't get the memo to let the kid win. Emperor's New Clothes as national delusion...

The art teacher is nice but a bit passive. The kids were fifth & sixth graders, with the appropriate range of developmental, maturity, academic quirks. There was a lot of distraction, a lot of whispering & side-talking, etc. Kids kind of just did what they wanted.
I went to a faux-arts school, and we were an entitled, snotty bunch--without knowing how entitled we were, unlike at the true success machine schools, where they are told/taught they are/will be leaders, and I'm not sure which is worse: slovenly arrogance or noblesse oblige. So, I'm aware of the slippery slope of permissive classrooms. If you let kids, like dogs, do whatever they want, do not be surprised they eat everything in the cookie bowl and shit all over the floor. I also taught at two southern prep schools, more of the Leadership Machine version than empowerment collective models, and there was strict order. Sure, some of it was southern culture, and there were certainly numerous opportunities for adolescents to be puerile, but there was more order and more ability to get stuff across.

I watched two sections of bright, healthy, supported kids basically half-fuck around. Not all, but many. The distracted were either chatty girls, with some boys joining in, and/or buzzing boys. I don't know why more boys seem to be ADHD but there seemed to be no real effort made to guide/direct/shape their impulses.

I guess I fall into the curmudgeonly school, where I understand that there are wiring/chemical issues at work, AND I think, from watching enough of them, that enforcing discipline (self-control) will only help them. Several of the kids seemed to spiral out through the endless opportunity to spiral out. It's akin to letting a dog have the house to roam so he 'will feel at home' & being surprised that the excess space has made the dog restless and destructive.

Classes went fine. Kids are kids, etc etc. Then we got to the end & teacher asked the adults for feedback. We made suggestions, said it was a cool idea--combining art, Spanish, public speaking--and that the kids did well. I didn't criticize the teacher or the class, but was musing about classroom management and what is actually best way to teach/learn, when several mothers stated how great the kids were, how awesome things had gone. I paused, held my tongue.

I don't think it was a shit project, nor were the kids lame, but to say it went phenomenally is a stretch. I wondered if, as I am inclined to find the things needing improving while acknowledging but not dwelling on all that goes well, these parents are inclined to see all the good in the deal, ignoring the errors and flaws. Is either one better, worse, helpful, a hinderance? Clearly, my gut reaction is that being blindly optimistic and calling it great does a disservice to the opportunity to improve. But I wondered about it: what is the difference between being a pessimist (which I don't think I am) vs. a blunt realist, or a cynical idealist? How about between an optimist vs a rose-glasses myopic? More importantly, if they are just ways of responding to the world at hand, does it matter?

Or, does it shape a world view where we hope things go better and wish they really were improving, even as there is easy evidence that things are what they are. It's no fun being the loutish cynical voice at middle school art classes, but how does that spread to overall social views, or parental blindness? Or cultural blindness?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Slow moooooving racers

Finally got out to 'race' this past weekend. Red Barn CX is another great, fun place to race. Of course, the men's beginners are up first, which means getting up and hitting the road around 0700. It was cold out, still dark even, when I drove north. The race staff had been there longer, and would be there all day, so I shouldn't whine, but it was chilly chilly.

It was a costume race, and I broke out the sacred cow getup with ironically appropriate cowbell. Getting there early enough to ride the course twice was a big help. (Slow learning curve...) I started in the back row, figuring I'd only get in people's way or push myself beyond skill level if I did my first race in the middle of the pack. I think I was 55 of 56 out of the gate.

Unlike last year, I didn't think I was going to die from the end of the first lap until the middle of the third lap--you know, that 'This is stupid. I probably have asthma. My foot might be broken. I should just stop now and protect my testicles.' etc etc, the insidious comforting whispers of quit-mind.

I passed a handful of folks--and held most of them off. There was a good battle/race somewhere in the apple trees for the top spaces, and, far behind in the sticks, there were the rest of us. My handling was a bit better than last year; my conditioning felt much better; I enjoyed it a good deal. Sloppy and rusty/absent actual skills, but I managed all right.

Good fun to have the other plodders mock each other for getting passed by a cow.

I had to leave directly after my race, and never heard whether I won the costume contest. If I didn't, that's some bullshit. Seriously. I raced as a cow. Fuck Super-Mario Brother: that was just a mustache...