A Vulgar Intellectual’s Mad Rant on Public Education

Words words words.

Christ, how come sometimes it is so easy to write drivel that people might actually read, but when it comes time to pen something worth thinking about – pondering in a Socratic manner – I freeze up and nothing comes stumbling forth? I feel like one of my students, looking up at me with those forlorn, hopeless eyes that seem to say in a silent scream, “Why are you doing this to me? I can’t write.”

Fuck all; you think I can?

This is Where I Lose My Shit

I have some brilliant writers. Little fuckers who are going places with their written word. Youths who have captured that emotion so eloquently and powerfully that they’ve no choice but to succeed and excel. Sure, it is easy to dismiss much of what teenagers have to say as little more than angst, or hormones, or impotent rage, but a select few have transcended this stereotype for the better.

I mean, fuck, I read the things these kids share with me and I wonder how come I’m not capturing raw emotion like that. To be 15 or 16 and to write about the things going on in their lives – in their heads – so powerfully, with such gusto, how can I not be impressed? I cannot name names, obviously, but if any of you little bastards are reading this, you know who you are.

And you know I mean that with the utmost respect. From writer to writer.

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And as I always tell them: don’t stop writing.

Oh, how easy is it to give in and call it a day. This is shit. Probably yes, but the important thing is you’ve written it. Not everything you pen will be golden – that’s part of the writing process – but the fact my young charges are out there trying to find their voice in the tempest that is high school, puberty, hormones, and problems at home, well, fuck, they are doing mighty fine enough.

Today I dressed up as Charles Bukowski. Basically I wore a bathrobe and had a small tumbler filled with Coke (I am told, under no circumstances, that I’m not actually allowed to drink on campus; so much for my margarita machine for the teacher’s lounge idea). We are working on poetry projects, and to model a good presentation (and wear a bathrobe to work), I showcased So You Want to be a Writer by that grumpy curmudgeon Bukowski. Frankly, I thought it went very well. One must have fun at work, right; otherwise, what’s the damned point?

My slideshow presentation ended with Bukowski’s mantra emblazoned upon the board for all to see. In huge, bold, obnoxious letters, it stated: Don’t try.

God. Damn. You’d think I shot someone in front of those kids with their stunned looks as they read those words.

Don’t try. Don’t try? A teacher is telling us to “don’t try?!” Indeed I am, my charges, for someone has to elucidate you with alternative opinions.

Let’s be real for a moment regarding public education. Foremost, I love my job. Little bastards keep me motivated and ready to kick ass every single day. Sure, some days are more taxing than others, but I reckon that is true for any job. But dealing with 150+ kids day in and day out, well, someone has to shake the foundation of lies they’ve been sacrificed upon.

Kids are taught from a very young age that a high score is the equivalent of excellence. An A+, a 100%, these are the things kids of all ages are taught – indoctrinated – to achieve because high scores equates to higher self-worth. If I achieve high scores on everything I do, so their understanding goes, then everything in Life will be easier and within my grasp.

Bull. Shit.

Kids – especially teenagers – are not little automatons we can constantly shuffle toward the meat grinder that is standardized testing. Kids are not mindless beings who must be forced to learn by rote memorization and recalling such things weeks down the road. How many of you fuckers can remember who conquered the Incan Empire? And what was the last Incan emperor’s name?

Don’t Google it; just answer the goddamned question.

This asshole.

Why in the thousand seas of fucks of Hell are we having kindergartners writing paragraphs – fucking paragraphs – when they should be picking their noses and complaining about cooties whilst running about like wild Indians on the playground? Why can’t young men wear ball caps in class? Why can’t young ladies wear their summer hoochie shorts to class? Why did starting a chess club raise such a rumpus? Why are we singing the virtues of football and cheerleading over innovation and true excellence? Why, and this is the most important bit, why can’t we let our kids express themselves without fear of reprisals?

Yes, I admit, childhood is a product of the 19th century, but when did we decide to create little worker bees instead of human beings? What good does it serve when every child is taught to express themselves the same way, that an essay only has five paragraphs, that art is only what has been done before and must be copied, that school ultimately doesn’t matter because you’re going to college anyway and there you’ll really learn?

What, in the flying fuck of a shit tempest, are we doing to ourselves? We, as Americans, wonder why the Vikings continuously beat the shit out of us every year in international testing, but we fail to see the glaring answer looking us in our fat, capitalist faces: they innovate. They allow children to be children. They allow youths to find themselves within the confines of the classroom.

And we, comrades, are bound by an overarching administration – an oligarchy – that controls what we teach and how we teach it. Not just in my county, not just in my state, but at a federal level too. All 10th graders must be able to identify a seminal document and write a comprehensive, critical review of the piece. Bor. Ing. Sure, I will teach a seminal document – because history is important – but expecting kids, especially the slow ones, to suddenly be at a certain level because we have a high and mighty pacing guide is absurd and unrealistic.

When did we start treating kids as numbers in a system, as benchmarks, as thresholds, as fucking statistics, and stop treating them as people?

I love my job. I love working with those bright, shining stars – those kids who will one day have their names in history books – and I love working with those kids who will amount to little else. You have to take the good and the bad; tis part of the job.

But lately, Christ, lately it feels like a lot of bad is being cast upon my charges. They are expected to be groomed for standardized testing, to be able to do things they’ve little interest in, to be neat, cookie cutter clones of one another, where originality is frowned upon and self-expression is akin to murder.

Hogwash, I say, for I shall endeavor to ensure my charges – my budding authors, poets, journalists, doodlers, workmen, CEOs, and more – are allowed to be themselves. Sure, the path of knowledge is long and arduous, but many of them are showing promise beyond their means. Maybe they suck shit at essay writing, but they’ll bring your heart to a standstill as you read one of their creative pieces. Maybe they never turn anything in on time, but when you catch them one-on-one discussing poetry, you’ll find yourself surprised at their keen insight and deeper understanding. They could be serial killer quiet in class but their poetry – at 15-years-old – will impress you.

Those kids are our future, and we are doing them a disservice by expecting clones. Don’t try, kids. You’re better than that. You’re better than this system that doesn’t have your best interests at mind. You’re better than a system with its head so far up its proverbial ass, it can see through murky eyes.

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Cry, “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war!

Fuck the system. You do you, kids. Now finished your goddamned poetry projects and let’s raise hell.

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This is the Moment

Hey there folks,

Forgive the sparse updates; between being a full-time English teacher, my own graduate schooling, and the various shenanigans I found myself obligated to uphold, finding time to write for the blog becomes almost Sisyphean.

Yet around the D&D table – where wisdom is freely exchanged amidst peers – I was casually reminded of the importance of indulging one’s self here and there.

“If you enjoy it,” he quipped, “you’ll make the time for it.”

Ah, comrades, how true are those blessed words. Yes, I do enjoy writing for writing’s sake even if I’ll never afford food again. That is mighty fine for man cannot live on bread alone, right?

Oh my, how my hubris has taken a turn – quoting Jesus now am I? Showing off my grad school prowess? Someone rein me in, please.

Now then, on to the meat and potatoes of today’s mad ramble.

And for you Administrator types that are concerned I penned this during working hours, rest assured this was first composed the night of 10 September over a few PBRs, coffee, and cigarettes. Scheduling a post is pretty groovy.

But if you want to start including that Blessed Trinity during working hours, you’ve my support.

Continue reading “This is the Moment”

Ultreia

or,

Embracing Change for the better

As a new teacher, I promised myself I wouldn’t return to my classroom throughout the bulk of summer, only entering those magnificent halls once August rolled around. This promise was made to preserve what little sanity I have left, and, as any teacher will attest, it’s simply bad juju for the nerves to visit school during the off-season. Who the hell wants to work during vacation, right?

The Brunos celebrating Swiss National Day

August First being a holiday, and the second being designated Wine Recovery Day, it wasn’t until the third I finally ventured to those quiet grounds consecrated in the name of furthering erudition. I set about the laborious task of cleaning off the walls (to make room for future pupils’ artwork) and rifling through stacks of papers (who left those about?) to get the classroom back in working order. The likes of Marx, Plato, and Socrates watched in complete silence as I set about my task, never once complaining that my weird fascination with Finnish metal was maybe a bit too loud.

In the middle of my favorite part of a particular piece, the solemnity of my room was invaded by the likes of the head custodian, who proceeded to lecture me for transgressions months old. How was I supposed to know marking on the floor with semi-permanent marker was verboeten? Nobody tells me nu’fink, guv.

After her lovely list of DON’T’S and DEFINITELY DON’T’S, she left me to my 12 Labors. As I set about returning to my task, my principal entered with a sad smile: clearly someone had died.

Well, no, not really.

But she was visibly upset as she relayed the news: I had been transferred to the 10th grade and placed in charge of every. single. honors. class.

She had me sit as she explained the full scoop. No longer was I Mr. Bruelhart, Crusher of 9th Grade Dreams and Draconian Disciplinarian with a Penchant for Fun; no. Now I was Mr. Bruelhart, Upended First Year Teacher with 12 Days to Rewrite My Summer’s Work for a 10th Grade Audience.

The title is a bit long, I’ll admit, but orders are orders and the title stays.

I have oft joked that schooling is an awful lot like the military: your superiors are fighting to prevent being outflanked and outgunned by their superiors, boots on the ground catch all the flak, no one of any rank has any idea what is going on outside their immediate vicinity, departments don’t communicate with other departments, logistics is a nightmare, orders are consistently countermanded (at least thrice), and the uniform regulations are constantly changing because fuck you that’s why.

Oh, and the pay sucks.

Seriously? 14 years just to make $50,000?

In that moment as she relayed my transfer/promotion/maybe we can make him quit by playing musical teachers/reassignment, I was one part confused, one part upset, and one part elated.

Confused, because, hell, why me? I’ve only been doing this gig for a single semester. How can these people trust me to teach Honors English? For you out-of-state types, Honors is the Advanced Placement equivalent without all the fluff and nifty upper level guidelines. Thankfully I attended two Advanced Placement workshops this summer – time to put that book learnin’ to use!

Reading, and beer, makes you look cool.

Upset, because I found out about this rather significant plot development less than two weeks before school starts. Surely someone in the know could have contacted me about the transfer when orders came down from higher. And unlike a normal job, I cannot barter for more pay or privileges when a transfer is possible – not in the teacher world! Now I have to take all of my summer’s labors and tweak them for upper level, (theoretically) motivated kids who are far past the realms of Romeo and Juliet. Pain in the bottom, to be sure, but nothing that will kill me. The grinding of the teeth ended hours ago, I assure you.

Elated, because, Hell. Yeah. I get to teach Honors! And 10th grade! Imagine the look on those kids’ faces as they receive their schedules, thinking they are rid of me for good as I wallow in Freshman English, only to see ENGLISH II: BRUELHART. Ha! Fate, you magnificent bitch; this is comedic gold. What’s more, Honors is supposed to be a more strenuous and difficult classroom environment – no more telegraphing or pulling punches. These kids gon’ learn today. And Julius Caesar. I get to teach Julius Caesar! Strength and honor, comrades.

There are many times throughout our lives where we are presented with a vast change that dictates the ebb and flow of things to come. Going from 9th to 10th grade with only a semester’s experience isn’t exactly ideal, but it isn’t the worst thing to have suddenly arrived from out of the blue. On the contrary, this seems minor, all things considered. A change, most certainly, and one that shall be met head on with gusto.

That’s the least we can do, no? Rather than whimper as a beaten hound, or find a craven way out, we must keep moving forward. This isn’t the time for complaining; no, far from it. This is the time to seize the day and make something better through adversity.

Ultreia, then, is apt. We keep moving forward. 9th, 10th, whatever. This setback is going to be the catalyst of progress and change – and how I relish chaos.

Cheers. Thanks for reading.

I’m Going Nomad

Hey there folks,

It’s been quite the spell hasn’t it? I have half a dozen veritable excuses I could use to satiate my claims of inadequacy, but in truth, none of them really matter. The fact is I’ve been neglecting my poor blog in favor of the tenuous here and now – and, shame, that just isn’t my proper style. What sort of wandering vagabond am I if I can scarcely keep a blog updated, eh?

Things have been quite tumultuous on my end, what, with the moving back to Lovington, taking up residence as a local English teacher, and trying to juggle my new work schedule, academic career, and personal Life all in one go. And here I thought I had mastered time management. Joke’s on me, because time is a fictional concept and you cannot master fiction.

Despite my faults (which exist purely because of my own machinations), I am acclimating well to things I reason. Forsooth, I heartily enjoy teaching English – that should’ve been a given considering my penchant for arguing and being a pompous ass when it comes to literature and opinions. And Lord knows if you’ve ever argued with me I don’t back down in the face of Reason too readily.

Yet my writing Life has certainly taken a most severe blow within these past few months. To be fair (which it isn’t), moving back to Lovington was a burden. But that was accomplished in little over a week (thanks, Po – you’re the best). And acclimating myself to the new teaching gig has been rather touch and go at times. Just when I feel I get the hang of things, the local Umbridge brings the thunder and I’m back to drowning in a heap of acronyms, paperwork, and children with banal questions. Yes, you put your goddamned name on every assignment; stop asking.

Even as I write this post, I am unsure of its completion. And if you’re reading this, hot damn, that means I finally finished a fucking draft for the first time in months. True, my personal journal is stained heavily in fountain pen ink (with my distinctive script), but it is indeed a far cry from keeping up with my blog. I’m paying for this damned thing, right, so I might as well write something worthy of note.

And here we are, for something has compelled me to write tonight, or rather, some people.

A couple weeks ago, a Camino Comrade of mine happened to be in the area on account of business. And by in the area I mean within two hours of me, which, as any red-or-green blooded New Mexican will attest, is close by. Despite it being a school night (still getting used to that again) and having a slew of grading, lesson plans, and my own academics to fret over, I saddled up after classes let out and made my way to the grand city of Andrews, Tejas. Despite my reluctance to ever visit that dread land of faux-Cowboys e’er again, this woman was well worth the voyage.

And so the two of us – having last met back in April in Missouri – dined over steak fingers and Cokes (no booze; damned dry city) and caught one another up on the shenanigans we’ve been up to since attending hospitalero training way back when. And I must say, how delightfully refreshing it was to simply spend a couple hours with an old friend. Truth, we had only spent about a week together in person, but Camino, as we all know, is simply like that: making eternal friends can take as little as a chance buen camino.

We sat in her car, chain smoking and bullshitting, reminiscing about this and that, and speaking of our desires to once more rejoin the Way and how we planned on achieving that. We spoke of our mutual comrades with whom we had both visited this past year, of our singular encounters with others from our hospitalero group, and the significant moments in our respective Lives from encounter the last.

She remarked upon the blog, how she really enjoyed my “sermon” to the Presbyterian flock of yesteryear, and I recall beaming with pride in the darkened vehicle, the ember of my cigarette dangling from my lip the only tell-tale sign of warmth across my face. Though my biggest critic and always downplaying praise, it touched me to know I had made an impact.

“You should write an anthology,” she said. “I think you’d be great at it.”

I’d be damned if I said my heart wasn’t aflutter at that kind suggestion.

Forsooth, comrades, there is something to be said in the mere innocence of it all. To simply sit there in plumes of smoke, watching the night sky take shape as the sun sets, and speaking from one soul to another. As I drove the hour and a half back to my new lodgings, how I wished I could merely keep driving and continue the great journey ever onward, to forever seek out such companionship and understanding, to keep the high.

Stephanie, I am eternally in your debt for shaking me awake. For reminding me that my Life isn’t meant to be forever in one place tied down to any single notion of reality. For indeed, reality is what we determine it to be.

And my reality has always been on the road.

But that moment of friendly bliss was soon swallowed whole by the new Life I had crafted about myself. Schooling is no joke – my evenings are oft dedicated to keeping ahead of my classes. My days are entirely devoted to my newfound charges – they may curse my name and workload at the present but I’ve hope for the future. And my personal Life – that damnable thing I can never quite put right – goes through the motions of ups and downs.

As a dark cloud swallows the sun in the encroaching storm, so too was my brief moment with Stephanie in danger of being eclipsed by my own machinations of realistic defeatism.

Yet Fate, comrades, had yet to abandon me completely.

Today, as my red pen flew across scores of comma splices and words in need of capitalization, my phone chirped the familiar sound of a message received. And there, though she didn’t know it at the time, came a familiar face with some much-needed words of encouragement.

“Hey Bruno!” she began. “Miss your posts!”

My dear Stacey – how powerfully wrought were these simple words.

We chatted for a bit – apparently, I may be considered a Subject Matter Expert on all things Grado (adding that to the resume) – about her upcoming writing responsibilities and the Gathering of Pilgrims outside Atlanta next month. Although I didn’t tell her at the time (indeed, I wasn’t quite so sure of it myself initially), her innocent comment had knocked something loose. It reminded me of my brief dinner with Stephanie, of the potential I had to actually put pen to paper and write.

To write, dammit.

That inspiration. That nugget of wisdom. The kernel of truth. Whatever euphemism you need, whatever you call it, to begin writing. And to write in earnest. And here we are now, dear reader, a full 1000 words later, writing about things that may seem trivial to the casual observer, but which mean oh so much to me and my flying fingers and racing pen.

Perhaps it’s the copious amounts of booze I’ve ingested. Maybe the plentiful amount of cigarettes smoked. Or the thought that tomorrow I could very well be hungover in a highly stressful job but without a single care to my name. Maybe the reverberating sounds of angry Finnish death metal within my addled skull. Whatever it is – whatever name we wish to call it – some cobwebs have been batted away, the dust scoured clean, and the writer once more unleashed unto himself.

Indulge me, comrades, for your Nomad has returned.

In parting, may I recite my absolute favorite bit of Passion Proof Power, a casual reminder that I am my own Fate, and that no matter what: I am fucking crazy, but I am free.

I Am
You Are
No One’s Slave
No Man or God They Have Made